Honoring the freedom and bravery of the 1956 Freedom Fighters

On October 23rd, Hungarians celebrate the brave women and men who stood up to Soviet communist oppression and fought for their freedom against one of the world’s biggest armies. After a few glorious days of victory, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was eventually overpowered by overwhelming military force, but the freedom fight drove the first nail into the coffin of communist oppression in the world.

On a sunny, autumn day in October, 61 years ago, students and teachers, factory workers and craftsmen, men and women, young and old, stood up bravely and demanded the end of communist Soviet oppression as well as the Hungarian puppet government. The “lads of Pest,” the youth of the nation “simply did their duty,” said Prime Minister Orbán last year in his address commemorating the holiday. When their peaceful demonstration against Stalinist terror was repressed brutally by bursts of gunfire, they did not back down. In heroic acts of bravery, ordinary people around the country took matters in their own hands to defy the communist state’s police force and the Soviets with whatever means they could find.

A freedom fighter by the name of Attila Gérecz, who was a poet and athlete, not only encouraged others to join the struggle but also participated in the battles himself. Auschwitz survivor István Angyal led the Tűzoltó street group in the battles. Péter Mansfeld was the youngest victim of the communist crackdown following the uprising, executed on the gallows at the age of eighteen. Gergely Pongrátz, who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with his five brothers, later preserved the revolution’s memory within and outside Hungary. Mária Wittner, József Tibor Fejes, János Szabó, Jenő Fonay, János Varga – the many profiles of courage leave us humbled, and the fate of these individuals illustrate the reality of the revolution. Their actions remind us that the heroism of Hungary’s legendary 1956 freedom fighter came from the extraordinary bravery of everyday people. Hungary’s freedom fighters were not reform communists or an intellectual elite seeking to improve the system. They were regular folks who mustered the courage to take to the street.

The freedom fighters brought the revolution several victorious days but were ultimately outnumbered and overwhelmed by Red Army reinforcements sent from the Soviet Union.

Their bravery brought them world renown and marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. They set in motion a process that would unravel communism’s oppressive grip on the freedom-loving people of Eastern Europe. From that point on, people of the world no longer believed the humanitarian image that “socialism” presented about itself. People started seeing bolshevism for what it was: an oppressive tyranny.

We still have much to process from the past, however, and the tragic period that followed the 1956 Revolution. The foundation of the House of Terror Museum recently identified four prosecutors and one military judge – still living with us today – who are responsible for condemning 25 heroes to death during the bloody repression following the revolution. This judge and the prosecutors have lived a comfortable life, even managing to preserve their financial advantages in the confusing years of the regime change.

For those in Budapest who would like to join in the commemorations, the national holiday offers many options. The commemoration at the House of Terror Museum (Andrássy út 60.) will include a speech by Prime Minister Orbán beginning at 3 pm. The Parliament is open for the public during the day and a Freedom Concert will take place at Millenáris Park.

Freedom hasn’t come free. We owe much to our heroes of 1956, our courageous compatriots and their awe-inspiring sacrifice.