Remembering November 4, 1956: a dark day in Hungary’s history

Soviet tanks might have crushed the 1956 Revolution on the streets of Hungary, but its spirit lived on in the hearts of the people.

At 4:15 a.m., November 4, 1956, Operation Whirlwind was launched with the explicit intent of quashing the revolution with overwhelming Soviet military might. Shortly after 5 a.m., a radio broadcast aired with János Kádár announcing the new Hungarian Worker-Peasant Government. The revolution had devolved into a “fascist uprising,” Kádár said. The name of his new government carried no small irony, considering the fact that the two largest segments of Hungarian society that had risen up against communism were the workers and peasants.

In response to the Soviet invasion, Imre Nagy addressed the nation on the radio in a speech declaring that the Soviets had invaded Hungary to overthrow the legal and, in his words, democratic government. The speech was then replayed in a loop and read out in various languages, including English and German.

Nagy and his associates took refuge in the Yugoslav Embassy, since Yugoslavia, although communist, was not part of the Warsaw Pact. The intent was to not provide the Soviets with ammunition that he had become a Western puppet. Cardinal József Mindszenty also took refuge, but he went to the American Embassy, where he stayed until 1971.

Nagy did not call for continued armed resistance in his post-invasion speech. Nevertheless, the revolutionary groups returned to the streets and resumed the fight. As to why Nagy had not asked the revolutionary groups to further engage in resistance, the general consensus is that Nagy feared it was hopeless and wished to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. To put the extent of Operation Whirlwind in proper perspective, the Soviets sent 17 additional divisions to boost the five divisions already occupying Hungary – enough troops to occupy East Germany – to capture the city of Budapest.

Although the fighting resumed (and some of the courageous freedom fighters continued their resistance for weeks), the Hungarians were vastly outgunned and Soviet military might prevailed. While the 1956 Revolution was put down, it was not the end of the story.

Photo credit: Fortepan