Rise Up!

The year 1956 began with the outward appearance of normal life, at least for Ari. She liked her new job. But under this surface of normalcy, 1956 would be the most explosive, hopeful, and disappointing year for the Fábos family and a generation of Hungarians.
Ari had successfully completed statistics training through her job at the state’s health insurance bureau and moved one floor down to the Department of Statistics (7th floor).
Ari by Lake Balaton in Hungary
Her parents had expected her to become a farmer’s wife. She still yearned to be an artist. But, as an upwardly mobile woman in this new economy, she became a statistician.
Pista and Gizi in front of their Keszthely house
Pista and Gizi had hidden money from the communist authorities and purchased a home in the largest city along Lake Balaton, Keszthely, where Pista had become a mailman.
They used Ari’s artwork, face down, as shelf liners for the kitchen cabinets of their new home.
Pista with moped in front of their Keszthely house garage
They also bought a one-acre vineyard in a neighboring village, and Pista returned to his craft of making wine, furtively selling it to his neighbors and tripling his very low postman salary. Clever man. He would not be completely defeated.
Pista and Gizella in back yard of their Keszthely house

THEstate required my grandparents to split their house in two and share the nicer half with a Communist Party member’s family, who stayed there whenever they vacationed on the Balaton.

It was hard. They missed the rhythm and satisfaction of the farm. And constantly on the Fábos family’s mind was Gyula and his hard labor conditions in the Tólápa prison camp.
Ari and Gyula by a haystack
Gyula school portrait around 1955
And then, out of the blue, Gyula came home. He was released a full seven months before his hard labor sentence was up. He didn’t know why. It was a huge surprise!
Gyula immediately embarked on gaining back his weight, finishing his agronomy degree, and taking study breaks in Lake Balaton.
Gyula and Ari and their cousin Géza on a park bench by Lake Balaton around 1956
Ari visited often from Budapest. So did cousin Géza. A comforting reunion…
But a revolution was brewing...

THERákosi regime had successfully turned Hungary into a “country of iron and steel,” but in the process, Hungarians’ quality of life had plummeted.

Men's new shoes in Hungary 1956

They were now wearing mismatched shoes, created by untrained workers on chaotic shoe factory assembly lines at Hungary’s single, massive, Danube Shoe Company. The state-run company had separated right and left feet assembly lines to streamline, and thus increase, production.

The Danube Shoe Factory employed 2,513 people and produced 2,513,000 pairs of shoes a year.
New apartment buildings in Várpalota Hungary in 1955 Hungarian women shopping in 1953

They were living in shoddy buildings that were missing essential features like window seals, insulation, and proper lighting fixtures. Many of these buildings, like the school Gyula had helped construct, had flimsy, three-centimeter-thick floors and terrible ventilation. These buildings were built on productivity quotas; like so many parts of the Hungarian economy, quality was the lowest priority.

They were standing in endless lines with ration tickets in hand, hoping to buy a brick of lard or some flour to make bread, often coming home with nothing except feelings of anger.

MEANWHILEmany agricultural workers were now assigned to vast, collectivized, modern farm complexes planting a hundred acres at a time. These were bleak places, void of children in the farmyard (they were at "young pioneer" camps), or grandfathers watering the flowers (flowers were not part of the economic plan).

Agricultural work on a state or collective farm in Hungary in 1950 New collective or state farm buildings in Hungary around 1950
But it turns out that people DO need flowers… and beauty...and fulfillment...
Parents sitting separately with baby carriage in 1955 Hungary

Perhaps the worst part of totalitarian Hungary in the 1950s was the way every social relationship was compromised. Authorities considered any meeting of more than two people suspicious. Therefore, trusted acquaintances wavered and then turned the other way. Friends stuck to discussing nothing but the weather. Parents became terrified of their own children, who might report them if they revealed their private beliefs, and resorted to whispering under the bed covers.

Crowd assembled for May 1st parade in 1955 Hungary

Meanwhile, Hungarians had to publicly fake euphoria—about this new social order, about the industrial turn, about the communist regime—all the while despising and questioning all or much of it.

Hungarian peasants on trial in 1956

By 1956, many supporters of communism, who had thought a radical new society would improve their material conditions, were disillusioned.

Hungarian gathering with communist policeman in 1955

Women, who had faced extreme hostility in the new communist workforce, felt doubly betrayed: they were at the bottom of every post on the communist ladder.

Young pioneer parade in Hungary 1955

Those who doubted all along (and often faced consequences for that doubt) were harboring an increasingly explosive anger.

Hungary was, once again, a TENSE, EMBITTERED SOCIETY.
Crowd assembled at Baross Tér in Budapest Hungary 1953

From 1948 to 1956, Hungarians had protested individually. They walked off their jobs, did their assigned work as minimally as possible, exaggerated production levels, diluted their milk—all to protect themselves in some way. In the process, their exhaustion from poverty and extreme political repression had hampered their will to openly protest. They were just figuring out how to survive.

But when Rákosi and his gang regained power in 1955, ending Imre Nagy’s “New Course,” public resentment against the regime boiled.


ANDwhen the Soviet Communist Party’s new leader, Nikita Khruschchev, gave a shocking “secret speech” that exposed and denounced Stalin’s ruthless purges, Hungarians suddenly felt more free to criticize Stalin and Soviet policies, too.

Nikita Khruschchev Secret Speech 1956
Khruschchev’s “Secret Speech” was formally called "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences," and was delivered after midnight on February 25, 1956, to a visibly shocked audience of Soviet Communist Party members.









Corner store in Marcali Hungary in 1940s

Throughout the next months, Hungarians in Budapest, and in towns like Marcali, began to openly express their discontent and share terrifying stories of their experiences (there were so many of them). Like the one about what happened to Mr. Gelencsér. He owned a little bar in Marcali close to the Fábos farm, and when Marcali’s ÁVH searched his shop and found a hidden jar of sugar cubes, they sentenced him to two years of hard labor for “intentionally depriving starving, working class people of sugar.”


THEPolitburo forced Rákosi to resign. Again! It was a reprise of 1953. But they made an enormous miscalculation. Instead of reinstating Imre Nagy as they did in 1953–the softer, gentler communist, and the person most Hungarians preferred to lead their nation—the Politburo installed another hardliner from Rákosi’s inner circle: Ernő Gerő.

Ernő Gerő in Hungary in 1953
Ernő Gerő in Hungary in 1955
Ernő Gerő was a Soviet KGB agent known for viciously purging the international brigades during the Spanish Civil War. His nickname was “Butcher of Barcelona.”
Hungarians couldn’t take it anymore.

October 23

Day 1

ONTuesday, October 23, 1956, the revolution started in Hungary’s capital city as a peaceful, hopeful student march from Buda to Pest. Students circulated a list of sixteen demands, which included:

  • The evacuation of all Soviet troops
  • General elections
  • A new government led by Imre Nagy
  • Trials for Mátyás Rákosi and his accomplices
  • A new political, economic, and cultural relationship with the Soviet Union
  • A reorganized economy steered by knowledgeable specialists
  • A living wage
  • Fair treatment of independent farmers
  • The release of political prisoners and other innocent victims
  • A free press
  • Party member elections (at every level) by secret ballot
  • The dismantling of Budapest’s large Stalin statue (a symbol of Stalinist tyranny and oppression) near Heroes’ Square
1956 Hungarian revolution
Fliers posted during the 1956 Hungarian revolution

The students posted these demands in doorways and on every tree along Budapest’s main boulevards. Small knots of people gathered to read them, and crowds began to mill in the streets. Budapest was in motion.

Ari was at work when the revolution started. She saw a lot of people carrying flags as she made her way home.
Outside the circus building in Városliget
But she and her roommate, Edit, had tickets to the Russian Circus that night, and they didn’t want to miss it.
The Russian circus, a sensation in the 1950s equal to the ballet, was a way for the Soviet regime to illustrate its cultural superiority and inculcate socialist brotherhood.
circus dancers performing in Hungary

INthe meantime, 200,000 Hungarians gathered by the Parliament building chanting:

Protesters in Kossuth Square during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution





Imre Nagy in 1956



Budapest crowd during 1956 Hungarian Revolution




By 9 p.m., a nervous Imre Nagy finally arrived on the balcony. He was not good at winging things, and immediately annoyed the crowd by using grating communist jargon and telling the protesters, not the Russians, to go home. In the end he awkwardly sang the Hungarian National Anthem.

He would have rather been at home taking care of his grandchildren.

Instead of disbanding, part of the crowd marched to Radio Budapest and demanded the station broadcast the students’ sixteen demands. ÁVH officers opened fire on the crowd.

Budapest crowd during 1956 Hungarian Revolution
The first “freedom fighter” was killed at 9:37 p.m.
Toppled Stalin statue on Rákoczi út during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

MEANWHILEanother crowd toppled the Stalin statue near Heroes’ Square and dragged it down Andrássy Street (then Sztálin Street), Budapest’s main avenue.

By the time the circus was over at 10:30 p.m., the buses and trams were no longer running and Ari and Edit had to walk along Andrássy Street, watching excitedly as Hungarians built barricades. Ari saw the toppled Stalin statue and grabbed a small piece. She gave it away to Edit, so I can’t show it to you here…

Protesters seized guns from military depots, distributed them to newly organized militias, and set fire to police cars.

Others openly vandalized any symbol of the Communist regime.

Toppled Stalin statue on Rákoczi út during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
When Ari heard gunshots, she became scared and ran with Edit in the opposite direction, making a huge detour, and telling all the people leaning out of their windows that a revolution had started, and that young people were running around with guns, and that there was a lot of chaos in the streets.
Edit and Ari finally arrived home at two in the morning.



Carrying flags during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

The “freedom fighters” drove through the night, carrying national flags and shouting revolutionary slogans.

Freedom fighters standing on tanks during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution



October 24

Day 2

Listening to the radio in the countryside
Gyula woke up on October 24 to a radio that played repeated gunshots instead of music. Portable radio He immediately understood that a revolution had begun. He was working on another state farm in Balatonaliga,
a village on the eastern tip of Lake Balaton, overseeing 600 state farm workers with three other young agronomists.
Immediately that morning, the workers organized a large meeting and elected Gyula “leader” of the farm’s freedom fighters (his head swelled). They were especially keen on free elections and better treatment of independent farmers. Most would have happily left the collective to farm independently again.

ONthis second day of the revolution, thousands of Hungarians in Budapest and across Hungary had organized into militias to battle the ÁVH, pro-Soviet communists, and Soviet troops.

A flag with the communist hammer and sickle removed became a symbol of the revolution.
When Ari reported to her job that morning, her office held a big meeting. Revolutionary sympathizers talked, and some people (not Ari) joined committees.
In Marcali, the town’s gynecologist, Mátyás Czipri, became the leader of the revolutionary committee there.

Throughout the countryside, revolutionary councils aggressively removed Communist red stars and Soviet war memorials. They rounded up ÁVH officers and burned communist files and records.

Molotov Cocktail recipe: a glass bottle, gasoline, and a fuse consisting of a fuel soaked rag held in place by the bottle's stopper.
In Balatonaliga, Gyula and his fellow freedom fighters made Molotov cocktails to bring to the capital city. They also captured local ÁVH guards.
Gyula said, Some workers favored murdering them. I was among those who wanted to take the ÁVH to regional authorities in Székesfehérvár, some 25 kilometers north, which is what we did.

By 2 p.m., October 24, six thousand Soviet troops reached Budapest. The army tanks poured in.

The freedom fighters against the Soviets was like the Biblical tale, “David and Goliath”
Freedom fighters riding on tanks during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Approximately 15,000 revolutionaries took up arms in Budapest. These were mostly young workers—angry, brave, and dedicated—who felt they had nothing to lose. They were deeply nationalist, anti-Soviet, and anti-Russian, but they were not antisocialist. Their average age was 25, and they wore “revolutionary” ribbons to identify themselves.





October 25

Day 3

THEmost horrible massacre of the revolution happened on the third day. A crowd of about 10,000 people had assembled in front of the Parliament building, and guards protecting the Parliament couldn’t figure out the loyalty of the tanks entering the square…Soviet? Hungarian Army?... Then indiscriminate shooting began, perhaps by the ÁVH sharpshooters on the rooftops. In the end, 60-80 protesters were killed and 100-150 were injured.

Meanwhile, thousands of people were losing their lives in Debrecen, Győr, Sopron, and other cities throughout Hungary.

And yet, the revolutionaries were surprisingly effective against the Soviet army. The Communist government collapsed and Imre Nagy became Prime Minister. This is what many Hungarians wanted.

Listening to the radio during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

But the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) was not satisfied with Nagy. Broadcasting night and day from Munich to 500,000 radios around Hungary, RFE mouthed shrill, uninformed, and anti-Communist propaganda that incessantly pressed insurgents to abolish, rather than reform, the communist system.






Beyond funding RFE radio propaganda, the Eisenhower administration in the U.S. was caught up in the Suez crisis and a presidential campaign and did nothing else for the Revolution.

BYthe sixth day, Nagy had arranged a ceasefire and negotiated talks between the insurgents and the Soviet government. Soviet troops withdrew to the Hungarian countryside. People ventured outside to examine the devastation.

October 30


Then Nagy announced, on the radio, the formation of a multiparty system and declared an end to the secret police. Cardinal Mindszenty, among other political prisoners, was released from prison.

“In the interest of

the further democratization

of the country’s life,

the cabinet abolishes

the one-party system

and puts the country’s

government on the basis

of the democratic cooperation

between the coalition

parties as they

existed in 1945….”

- imre nagy

Ari felt a strange combination of relief and anxiety. Then she walked home from work that night to find a crowd blocking her normal route across Köztársaság Square. Insurgents had just lynched an ÁVH officer outside Party Headquarters.
ÁVH soldier lynched in Budapest on October 30 during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
It was shocking.
The crowd had thought, mistakenly, that the ÁVH were holding prisoners in the catacombs below. There were no catacombs, or prisoners; it was a misunderstanding. This was the only bloodshed in Budapest during this period of calm.
But despite the lynching, Both Gyula and Ari returned to Keszthely that evening, thinking the age of Soviet rule was over. It seemed to everyone that the freedom fighters had won!

October 31

Day 7

INCREDIBLY,the Soviet government announced in Pravda that it would begin a total withdrawal from Hungary. The statement created a worldwide sensation. Was this really happening?

But that night, Khruschchev couldn’t sleep. He was troubled by the lynching. Troubled by Nagy’s announcement of a multiparty system. Troubled by a hunch that Nagy was too wimpy to maintain order. Troubled by the imperialist West, which was sure to gloat at a Soviet withdrawal.

He decided to reverse the order and not withdraw troops. He decided to do the opposite: invade Hungary with a massive show of strength.

AT DAWN,the Politburo told Nagy of Khrushchev’s reversal. Nagy spent a day making appeals: to Western leaders, to ambassadors of the Warsaw Pact, to the Soviet leadership (who ignored his calls).

Hungarians had no idea that an enormous Soviet army was now mobilizing by the Soviet-Hungarian border and preparing to invade their country. For three days they lived in complete, ignorant bliss. The Revolution was successful! Shops opened with food and a few trams in the capital were able to function. People went back to work and marveled at the free press that had sprung up overnight.

November 4

Day 11

NAGYkept the impending invasion from his people to prevent panic. It started early in the morning on November 4, as hundreds of Soviet tanks encircled Budapest and randomly shot at buildings while air strikes came from above.

Burning armored shotgun vehicle during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
The second Soviet invasion was called “Operation Whirlwind.”
The Hungarian revolutionaries didn’t have a chance.
Bombed Budapest building in 1956
It took the Soviets five days to take complete control of Hungary.
So many people died, especially in Budapest.
It was so horrible.
My family members were all together in Keszthely when this happened.

And then immediately afterwards, thousands of Hungarian participants were rounded up. Arrested. Tortured. Hundreds executed. Imre Nagy was captured.

There were five-o’clock curfews and Soviet checkpoints everywhere. A young boy was shot simply for running.

Marcali's town gynecologist, Mátyás Cipri, who led the revolution in Marcali, was tortured with law books stacked on his head and pounded with a hammer. He would later die of a brain hemorrhage.
Gyula’s biggest fear was being deported to a concentration camp in the Soviet Union. Because he had been involved in the revolution, and because of his history as a kulak, his best option was to get out of Hungary as soon as possible and join the other 182,000 people fleeing across the border to Austria
Approximately 22,000 people were convicted for offences connected to political activity during the revolution. An estimated 229 Hungarians received death sentences.
Ari wanted to go too. “Should I go?” she asked her father, Pista. “No, you stay, only Gyula goes,” he said.
So…after a hasty and tearful goodbye, Gyula left with three other acquaintances by motorcycle.
. It was risky. They had fake papers. Their story, if they were stopped, was that they were “recruiting workers for their state farm.”
Hungarian border policeman checking papers during the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
a large truck comes down a deserted road near the border
They narrowly avoided advancing tanks by turning into an alley in Ják, close to the border. Soviet troops were already shutting down the border to Austria, so they ditched the motorcycles and switched to a cart pulled by two horses.
border guard stopping a man in a horse cart
They came upon Soviet guards, who had just captured about 15 Hungarians. Gyula and his associates stuck to their story—they were recruiting workers for their state farm—and emphasized words like “comrade” and “communist.”
In a horse-drawn cart, they seemed believable and passed through.
In a horse-drawn cart, they seemed believable and passed through.
crossing the border in the dark of night and not stopping until they reached the lights of Eberau, the first Austrian border town.
Relieved and free. Proud and torn. Ari stayed in communist Hungary.Gyula traveled to the capitalist West.