Remembering the heroes of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight

Today, October 23, marks the sixty-third anniversary of the beginning of our 1956 Revolution. On this autumn day in 1956, students at Budapest’s Technical University marched to József Bem Square, issuing a list of demands, referred to as the 16 points, that called for the end of the one-party state and the holding of free and democratic parliamentary elections, the country joining the United Nations and leaving the recently established Warsaw Pact.

The events set in motion a revolution that would shake the world. And while the force of the Red Army eventually put it down, ultimately it could not stifle the Hungarian peoples’ desire for freedom that would eventually prevail.

Soviet troops underestimated them. Hungarian revolutionaries – among them the so-called “lads of Pest” – put up a strong enough fight to declare Hungary’s independence, its departure from the Warsaw Pact, and set up a new, independent government. Their resistance was so strong that Moscow had hesitated at first and even started negotiations with the new Hungarian leadership. But eventually, the Soviet Union decided to impose its will with overwhelming force. On November 1st, 17 Soviet divisions rolled into Hungary to boost the five Soviet divisions already in the country and re-take control of the country.

Military officials and communist leaders were hopeful that they would crack the Revolution within days. “How long would it take to restore the status quo in Hungary?” Khrushchev asked Marshal Ivan Konev. “Three days. No more is needed,” replied the marshal in charge of Operation Whirlwind.

But the “lads of Pest” surprised the adversary. In fact, it took seven days for those Soviet divisions to take back Hungary using a combination of artillery, air strikes, and tank-infantry actions. Against the Soviet military might stood the Hungarian freedom fighters, the real heroes of 1956, with AK-47s, Molotov cocktails, and a determination to win back the nation’s liberty, many making the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle.

On the Soviet side, records show 85 soldiers dead, 12 lost, and 265 injured. On the Hungarian side, casualties amounted to 2,500 dead and some 20,000 wounded. In the aftermath, 22,000 Hungarians were sentenced to prison - often by ad-hoc court martials - 13,000 interned in labor camps, and 229 executed. Soldiers and military officers sympathizing with the revolution were deported to labor camps in the Soviet Union. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians fled the country.

The 1956 Revolution may have been stomped out by Soviet military might, but that freedom fighting spirit survived in the hearts of the people. The sacrifices of the Hungarian people were not in vain. They inspired many around the world, especially those living in tyranny in the Soviet bloc, and their spirit lived on in the events of 1989. The true nature of the communist regime was exposed and thus, although it was not yet apparent, the 1956 Revolution set in motion the defeat of the Soviet Union.

Those brave Hungarians drove the first nail in the coffin of Soviet bolshevism in Europe. Today, across the country, Hungarians are lighting candles in remembrance of our heroes of 1956. Join us in celebrating our Hungarian freedom fighters!

Photo credit: Fortepan