Stand Up for the Freedom Fighters

Some have wondered when that fateful turn began, that moment that marked “the beginning of the end of the Soviet Empire.” For those of us who endured Soviet oppression behind the Iron Curtain, it came in 1956, brought about by a scrappy pack of kids, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their courage.

On October 23rd, 1956 the first, unexpected shots of the Hungarian revolution rang out. In unimaginable scenes, Budapest became a tapestry for armed revolt, as students, workers, teachers and Hungarians from all walks of life said, “enough.” Each day the revolution gained momentum as more of the Soviet apparatus was stripped of credibility and power. The people responded to the call for freedom and everyone had cause to believe it would succeed. Then the Soviet army with its tanks wielding overwhelming force rolled into the city, crushing the resistance of our brave youth. But their cause did succeed – just decades later.   

Take the case of Péter Mansfeld, an apprentice machinist who joined the revolution at Széna Square in Buda. Then fifteen, he volunteered to join Hungary’s freedom fighters, bravely supplying them with food and delivering messages. As the Soviets rolled back the revolution with tank and artillery fire, twelve days later on November 4th, Mansfeld refused to give up. He buried a cache of weapons and melted back into the mayhem of Kadar’s post-revolution Hungary. He waited to fight another day. The security forces of the regime picked him up, however, and threw him in prison, holding him until he was old enough to be executed. Shortly after his eighteenth birthday in March 1959, Péter Mansfeld was executed for his role in the revolution. Law and order of the Communist kind prevailed in Hungary.

For 33 years, any public commemoration of the events of 1956 was forbidden. It stayed buried in the back of everyone’s minds. Everyone knew the regime could not last against the nation’s desire for freedom. Not until October 23, 1989, when a free Republic of Hungary was reborn, could the stories of freedom fighters like Mansfeld be acknowledged, though there are still many around who would rather have us forget.

Today, a free and prosperous Hungary, a member of NATO and the European Union, celebrates these heroes. In 1956, without thinking about personal risks and chances, Hungarians stood up courageously against oppression, for the future of their nation. Today, we are indebted to them for our freedom.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. Buildings are being painted with murals based on iconic photographs of these heroes, local and international bodies honor their heritage and researchers record their memories. In honoring their legacy, we give thanks to the heroes of ’56 for our liberty.