Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (also the Hungarian Uprising, 23 October – 10 November 1956; Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom), was a countrywide revolution against the Stalinist government of the Hungarian People's Republic (1949–1989) and the Hungarian domestic policies imposed by the USSR. Initially anarchic, the Hungarian Uprising was the first major nationalist challenge to Soviet Union's control of Hungary since the Red Army ended the Nazi occupation of Hungary at the end of the Second World War in Europe, in May 1945.[nb 2]

Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Part of the Cold War
Hole in flag - Budapest 1956.jpg
The Hungarian flag with the Communist coat of arms (1949–56) cut out was a revolutionary symbol.
Date23 June – 11 November 1956 (1956-06-23 – 1956-11-11)
23 October – 4 November 1956 (1956-10-23 – 1956-11-04) (main phase)

Soviet victory

  • Revolution repressed
 Soviet Union
Until 28 October:
From 4 November:
Kádár government
Hungarian revolutionaries
From 28 October:
 Hungary (Nagy government)
Commanders and leaders
Units involved
Soviet Armed Forces
Loyalist elements of the Honvédség
Armed citizens
Pro-Revolution elements of the Honvédség
  • 31,550 troops
  • 1,130 tanks[nb 1]
Political support
Logo of the Hungarian Working People's Party.svg Working People's Party (loyalists, to 28 October)
Red star.svg Socialist Workers' Party (from 4 November)
Logo of the Hungarian Working People's Party.svg Working People's Party (dissidents, to 31 October)
Red star.svg Socialist Workers' Party
(to 4 November)
Wheat-icon.svg Smallholders' Party
MSZDP logo, 1945.svg Social Democratic Party
Logo of the National Peasant Party (Hungary).svg Petőfi Party
Logo of the Democratic People's Party (Hungary, 1947).svg Democratic People's Party
Hungarian Independence Party logo, 1947.svg Independence Party
Other reformed parties
Casualties and losses
  • 722 killed
  • 1,540 wounded[1]
  • 2,500–3,000 killed
  • 13,000 wounded[2]
3,000 civilians killed[3][page needed]

The Hungarian Revolution began on 23 October 1956 in Budapest when university students appealed to the civil populace to join them at the Hungarian Parliament Building to protest the USSR's geopolitical domination of Hungary with the Stalinist government of Mátyás Rákosi. A delegation of students entered the building of Hungarian Radio to broadcast their sixteen demands for political and economic reforms to the civil society of Hungary, but were detained by security guards. When the student protestors outside the radio building demanded the release of their delegation of students, policemen from the ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hatóság) state protection authority shot and killed several protestors.[4]

Consequently, Hungarians organised into revolutionary militias to battle the ÁVH; local Hungarian Communist leaders and ÁVH policemen were captured and summarily killed or lynched; and anti-communist political prisoners were released and armed. To realise their political, economic, and social demands, the local soviets (councils of workers) assumed control of municipal government from the Hungarian Working People's Party (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja). The new government of Imre Nagy disbanded the ÁVH, declared the Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October the intense fighting had subsided, but some workers continued battling the Stalinist régime and the appearance of opportunist bourgeois political parties.[5]

Although initially willing to negotiate the withdrawal of the Red Army from Hungary, the USSR repressed the Hungarian Revolution on 4 November 1956, and fought the Hungarian revolutionaries until 10 November; repression of the Hungarian Uprising killed 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Red Army soldiers, and compelled 200,000 Hungarians to seek political refuge abroad.[6]


Second World WarEdit

During the Second World War (1939–1945), the Kingdom of Hungary (1920–1946) was a member of the Axis powers — in alliance with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Kingdom of Romania, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. In 1941, the Hungarian military participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia (6 April 1941) and in Operation Barbarossa (22 June 1941) the invasion of the USSR. In the event, by 1944, the Red Army were en route to the Kingdom of Hungary, after first having repelled the royal Hungarian army and the armies of the other Axis Powers from the territory of the USSR.[7]

Fearing the consequences of the Soviet Union's occupation of the Kingdom of Hungary, the royal Hungarian government unsuccessfully sought an armistice with the Allies, to which betrayal of the Axis Nazi Germany launched Operation Margarethe (12 March 1944) to establish the Nazi Government of National Unity of Hungary; despite those politico-military efforts, the Red Army defeated the German and the Hungarian Nazis in late 1944.[8] On 10 February 1947, a peace treaty confirmed the military defeat of Nazi Hungary and stipulated the USSR's right to a military occupation of Hungary.[7]

Soviet occupationEdit

At the end of the Second World War (1939–1945), the Kingdom of Hungary was in the geopolitical sphere of influence of the USSR. In the political aftermath of the War, Hungary was a multiparty democracy, in which the 1945 Hungarian parliamentary election produced a coalition government composed of Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and the Civic Party, headed by Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy. Nonetheless, in behalf of the USSR, the Hungarian Communist Party continually used salami tactics to wrest minor political concessions, which continually diminished the political authority of the coalition government — despite the Communist Party only having received 17 per cent the votes in the parliamentary election of 1945.[9][10]

After the election in 1945, control of the State Protection Authority (Államvédelmi Hatóság, ÁVH) was transferred from the Independent Smallholders Party of the coalition government to the Hungarian Communist party.[11] The ÁVH repressed non­­‑communist political opponents with intimidation and false accusations, imprisonment and torture.[12] The brief, four­­‑year period of multi-party democracy ended when the Hungarian Social Democratic Party merged with the Communist Party and became the Hungarian Working People's Party, whose candidate stood unopposed in the 1949 Hungarian parliamentary election. Afterwards, on 20 August 1949, the Hungarian People's Republic was proclaimed and established as a socialist state, with whom the USSR then concorded the COMECON treaty of mutual assistance, which allowed stationing troops of Red Army soldiers in Hungary.[10]

Based upon the economic model of the USSR, the Hungarian Working People's Party established the socialist economy of Hungary with the nationalization of the means of production and of the natural resources of the country. Moreover, by 1955, the relatively free politics of Hungary allowed intellectuals and journalists to freely criticise the social and economic policies of the Rákosi government.[13] In that vein of relative political freedom, on 22 October 1956, students from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics had reëstablished the MEFESZ Students' union, which the Rákosi government earlier had banned for their politically incorrect politics.[14]

Stalinist HungaryEdit

Initially, the Hungarian People's Republic was a socialist state headed by the Communist government of Mátyás Rákosi (r. 1947–1956), a Stalinist beholden to the USSR.[15] To ensure ideological compliance within his Stalinist government, Rákosi used the ÁVH (State Protection Authority) to purge 7,000 politically incorrect “Titoists” and “Trotskyists” from the Communist Party of Hungary, for being “Western agents” whose participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) interfered with Stalin's long-term plans for world Communism.[16][17][18] Among the Stalinist governments of the Eastern bloc, the Rákosi government of the Hungarian People's Republic was most repressive of political, sexual, and religious minorities.[10][19][20][21]

Stalin's Man in Hungary: Mátyás Rákosi addresses an audience in Budapest. (1948)

In 1949, the Rákosi government tried and sentenced the anti-Semite Cardinal József Mindszenty to perpetual imprisonment for treason against Hungary, for having collaborated with Nazi Germany in realising the Holocaust in Hungary (1941–1945) — the religious persecution of Hungarian Jews, and the political persecutions of Hungarian Communists and of Hungarian anti-Nazis.[22][23]

Political repressionEdit

In the 1950–1952 period, the ÁVH forcibly relocated 26,000 thousand non-communist Hungarians, and confiscated their housing for members of the Communist Party of Hungary, and so eliminate the political threats posed by the nationalist and anti-communist intelligentsias and by the local bourgeoisie. According to their particular politics, anti-communist Hungarians were either imprisoned in concentration camps or were deported to the USSR or were killed, either summarily or after a show trial; the victims included László Rajk, the minister of the interior who founded the ÁVH secret police.[17][19]

The Rákosi government politicised the education system with a toiling intelligentsia who would assist in the Russification of Hungary; thus the study of Russian language and Communist political instruction were mandatory at school and at university; religious schools were nationalized and church leaders replaced with communists officials.[24][25]

Economic declineEdit

In the early 1950s, the Rákosi government's socialist economics increased the per capita income of the Hungarian people, yet their standard of living diminished because of the compulsory financial contributions towards the industrialisation of Hungary, which reduced the disposable and discretionary income of individual Hungarian workers. That poor economy was further diminished by the bureaucratic mismanagement of resources, which caused shortages of supplies, and the consequent rationing of bread and sugar, flour and meat, et cetera.[26] The net result of those economic conditions, was that the Hungarian workers' disposable income in 1952 was two-thirds of the disposable income of Hungarian workers in 1938.[27]

Besides paying for the Red Army occupation of socialist Hungary, the Hungarians also paid war reparations (US$300 millions) to the USSR, to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.[28] In 1946, the Hungarian National Bank reported that the cost of war reparations was “between 19 and 22 per cent of the annual national income” of Hungary,[29] an onerous national expense aggravated by the hyperinflation consequent to the post-war depreciation of the Hungarian pengő.[30] Moreover, participation in the Soviet-sponsored Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) prevented direct trade with the countries of the West, and also prevented the Hungarian People's Republic from receiving American financial aid through the Marshall Plan (1948).[31] Socially, the imposition of Soviet-style economic policies and the payment of war reparations angered the peoples of Hungary, whilst the cumulative effects of economic austerity fuelled anti-Soviet political discontent as the payment of foreign debt took precedence over the material needs of the Hungarian people.[32]

International eventsEdit

In the Eastern bloc, the Hungarian Prime Minister, Imre Nagy (centre), proved too-progressive a Communist in his government's pursuit of the Hungarian road to Socialism, which deviated from the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. (October 1956).

On 5 March 1953, the death of Stalin allowed the CPSU to proceed with the de-Stalinization of the USSR, which afterwards allowed most European Communist parties to develop a reformist wing. In the Hungarian People's Republic, the reformist Communist Imre Nagy became prime minister in replacement of the Stalinist Mátyás Rákosi.[33] Despite his formal removal as head of government, Rákosi remained politically powerful as the General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, and so undermined most of the political and socio-economic reforms of the Nagy government; and by 18 April 1955, Rákosi had discredited prime minister Nagy to the degree of compelling the USSR to depose him as head-of-state of Socialist Hungary.[34]

On 14 May 1955, with the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact with seven countries of the Eastern bloc, including the Hungarian People's Republic. The geopolitical principles of the Warsaw Pact defence treaty included “respect for the independence and [the] sovereignty of [the member] states” and the practise of “non-interference in their internal affairs.”[35] Then, on 15 May 1955, a day after the USSR established the Warsaw Pact, the Austrian State Treaty established Austria as a neutral country in the geopolitical cold war betwixt the US and the USSR.[36] Austria's declaration of geopolitical neutrality allowed the government of PM Nagy to consider “the possibility of Hungary adopting a neutral status on the Austrian pattern.”[37]

In February 1956, as the First Secretary of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev initiated the de-Stalinization of the USSR with the speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences which catalogued and denounced the abuses of power committed by Josef Stalin and his inner-circle protégés, in Russia and abroad.[38] Therefore, the de-Stalinization of Hungarian People's Republic featured Rákosi's dismissal as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary, and his replacement by Ernő Gerő, on 18 July 1956.[39] In the West, the CIA's radio network, Radio Free Europe, broadcast Khruschev's anti–Stalinist speech to the countries of eastern Europe in effort to destabilise the internal politics of the Warsaw Pact countries.[40]

In June 1956, the government of the Polish People's Republic violently repressed the workers' uprising at Poznań with tanks and soldiers of the Polish Army. In October 1956, responding to popular demand from the workers and from within the Communist Party, the Polish government appointed the politically rehabilitated, reformist-politician Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party, with a mandate to negotiate with the USSR for greater trade concessions and for fewer Red Army troops stationed in Poland; three months later, on 19 October 1956, the USSR agreed to Gomułka's reforms to Russo–Polish relations.[41] The USSR's concessions to Poland — known as the Polish October — emboldened Hungarians to demand like concessions for Hungary, those hopeful sentiments much contributed to the Hungarians’ greatly idealistic politics in October 1956.[42]

In the Cold War of the 1950s, the confrontational nature of Russo–American relations only allowed the U.S. to secretly encourage the Warsaw Pact countries to escape Soviet hegemony by their own efforts. To avoid the Russo–American nuclear war consequent to overt political interference with the Warsaw Pact, the U.S. secretly and publicly undermined the political authority and cultural influence of the USSR among the Warsaw Pact — just short of provoking the régime change inherent to the policies of anti-communist rollback, which also led to nuclear war. In the event, when economic warfare, sabotage, and psychological warfare failed to contain world Communism, the U.S. then resorted to diplomacy with the USSR.[43] Yet, despite those failures of secret warfare, vice-president R.M. Nixon encouraged the U.S. National Security Council (NSA) to deploy the CIA to continually provoke the USSR into repressing another anti-communist revolt in another Warsaw Pact country, because heavy-handed Soviet repression then would provide anti-communist propaganda beneficial to the geopolitical interests of the U.S.[44] To that end, CIA director Allen Dulles lied to the National Security Agency about the CIA possessing a network of anti-communist secret agents actively subverting soviet communism in Hungary — however, the CIA never had active espionage operations in Hungary.[45]

In the summer of 1956, the U.S. and the Hungarian People's Republic improved their diplomatic relations with expanded bilateral trade relations. The desire for better politico-economic relations with the West, and the U.S. in particular, was partly attributable to the poor economy of Hungary caused by the onerous war-reparation payments to the USSR and other countries. In the event, the Hungarian Ministry of Internal Affairs hindered the Hungaro–American negotiations, lest their success diminish the authority of the Hungarian Communist Party, as manager of the national economy of Hungary.[43]

Social unrest buildsEdit

Rákosi's resignation in July 1956 emboldened students, writers, and journalists to be more active and critical in politics. Students and journalists started a series of intellectual forums examining the problems facing Hungary. These forums, called Petőfi circles, became very popular and attracted thousands of participants.[46] On 6 October 1956, László Rajk, who had been executed by the Rákosi government, was reburied in a moving ceremony that strengthened the party opposition.[47]

On 13 October 1956, a small group of 12 students from various faculties in Szeged, who met for a game of bridge or other entertainment, decided to snub the official Communist student union, the DISZ, by re-establishing the MEFESZ (Union of Hungarian University and Academy Students), a democratic student organization, previously banned under the Rákosi dictatorship.[14] But to make it widespread, hundreds of handwritten notes were left at various classrooms indicating a meeting to be held on 16 October, in a specified classroom. The reason was not specified on account of the Communist authorities. Hundreds attended and the meeting was chaired by one of the law professors. At the meeting MEFESZ was officially re-established, with 20 demand points, ten pertaining to re-establishing MEFESZ but ten others having direct political demands, e.g. free elections, departure of Soviet troops, and the like. Within days, the student bodies of Pécs, Miskolc, and Sopron followed suit. On 22 October, one of the law students of the original twelve went to Budapest to formally announce the re-establishment of MEFESZ and associated demands to the students of the Technical University. A new list was compiled of sixteen points containing several national policy demands.[48] After the students heard that the Hungarian Writers' Union planned on the following day to express solidarity with pro-reform movements in Poland by laying a wreath at the statue of Polish-born hero General Józef Zachariasz Bem, who was also a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the students decided to organize a parallel demonstration of sympathy and unity.[42][49]

Anti-communist revolutionEdit

First shotsEdit

Hungarian patriots place the national flag of Hungary atop a dismantled statue of Stalin.

On the afternoon of 23 October, approximately 20,000 protesters convened next to the statue of József Bem, a national hero of Poland and Hungary.[50] To the amassed crowd, the intellectual Péter Veres, president of the Writers' Union (hu: Írószövetség), read a manifesto that demanded Hungarian independence from all foreign powers; a democratic socialist political system based upon land reform and public ownership in the economy; Hungarian membership to the United Nations; and all freedoms and rights for the citizens of Hungary.[51] After Veres proclaimed the Hungarian manifesto, the crowd began chanting the National Song (Hu: Nemzeti dal), a Hungarian patriotic poem which the Soviet-controlled government had censored from public performance; specifically, the crowd chanted the refrain: “This we swear, this we swear, that we will no longer be slaves.” Moreover, someone in the crowd cut out the coat of arms of Communist Hungary from the national flag of Hungary; the hole amid the Hungarian flag became symbolic of nationalist and anti-communist pride.[52][page range too broad]

Afterwards, most of the crowd crossed the River Danube to join demonstrators outside the Parliament building. By 18:00, the multitude had swollen to more than 200,000 people;[53] the demonstration was spirited, but peaceful.[54]

At 20:00, the first secretary of the ruling party, Ernő Gerő broadcast a speech condemning the writers' and students' demands.[54] Angered by Gerő's hardline rejection, some demonstrators decided to carry out one of their demands, the removal of Stalin's 30-foot-high (9.1 m) bronze statue that was erected in 1951 on the site of a former church, which was demolished to make room for the monument.[55] By 21:30, the statue was toppled, and the crowd celebrated by placing Hungarian flags into Stalin's boots, which was all that was left of the statue.[54]

Around the same time, a large crowd gathered at the headquarters of the Hungarian Radio, which was heavily guarded by the ÁVH. The flashpoint was reached as a delegation attempting to broadcast their demands was detained. The crowd outside the building grew increasingly unruly as rumours spread that the members of the delegation had been killed. Tear gas was thrown from the upper windows, and the ÁVH opened fire on the crowd, killing many.[56] The ÁVH tried to resupply itself by hiding arms inside an ambulance car, but the crowd detected the ruse and intercepted it. Soldiers were sent to the spot to relieve the security forces but instead tore off the red stars from their caps and sided with the crowd.[52][page range too broad][56] Provoked by the ÁVH attack, protesters reacted violently. Police cars were set ablaze, guns were seized from military depots and distributed to the mass and symbols of the regime were vandalised.[57]

Deposing the Communist governmentEdit

Kossuth Lajos Street as seen from Ferenciek Square: Anti-communist Hungarians march in protest against the USSR's control of Hungary. (25 October 1956)
The corpse of a communist officer killed defending the headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Party, at Republic Square, Budapest.
Anti-communist Hungarian freedom fighters doing their bit for the Revolution against Soviet control of Hungary. (November 1956)

On 23 October 1956, the Secretary of the Hungarian Working People's Party, Ernő Gerő, asked for the USSR's military intervention in order “to suppress a demonstration that was reaching an ever-greater and unprecedented scale”, which threatens the national security of the People's Republic of Hungary.[41] To that end, the USSR already had plans for the military invasion and occupation of Hungary, and for the political purging of Hungarian society.[58] On 24 October 1956, at 02:00 hrs, Soviet defence minister Georgy Zhukov ordered Red Army tank and infantry units to enter and occupy Budapest — the capital city of a Warsaw Pact country.[59]

By 12.00 hrs of 24 October, the Red Army had stationed tanks outside the parliament building, and Red Army soldiers held and guarded the key bridges and crossroads that allowed controlling access to and from the city of Budapest. Elsewhere, throughout the capital city, armed Hungarian revolutionaries quickly barricaded streets in order to defend their Budapest.[52] Moreover, on that day, Imre Nagy became prime minister in place of András Hegedüs.[60] By way of a national radio broadcast, prime minister Nagy appealed to the Soviet and Hungarian combatants to cease fire, and promised to initiate the agreed political reforms that were never realised three years earlier, in 1953. Nonetheless, despite the pleas of the prime minister, the rural and urban populations of the Hungarian People's Republic armed themselves and continually engaged in firefights with the Red Army.[61]

At the offices of the Communist newspaper Szabad Nép, the ÁVH guards fired upon unarmed protestors, who were then driven from the newspaper building by armed anti-communists.[61] The Hungarian nationalists and anti-communists then focused their political wrath and sought revenge upon the secret policemen of the ÁVH;[62] Some units of the Red Army were not yet fully informed of the politics of their presence in Hungary; reports indicated that some Soviet troops politically sympathised with the Hungarian protestors.[63]

On 25 October, anti-communist and nationalist protesters amassed before the Hungarian parliament building and presented their political demands to the Communist government. In due course, from the rooftops of the buildings adjacent to the parliament, the ÁVH police units fired upon the crowd of Hungarians.[64][65] In the fog of war, some Soviet soldiers mistakenly fired back at the ÁVH policemen atop the roofs, having mistakenly believed themselves the targets whom the ÁVH police were shooting.[52][page range too broad][66] The Hungarian revolutionaries armed themselves with weapons captured from ÁVH policemen and with weapons donated by soldiers who deserted the Hungarian army to join the revolution against Soviet control of Hungary; from amongst the crowd amassed outside the parliament, the armed protestors began firing their weapons at the roof-top ÁVH policemen.[52][page range too broad][64]

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Army was politically divided, because nationalist and anti-communist loyalties had fractured the chain of command, in response to the national security pressures to use military force to repress popular politics that contradicted the Soviet-controlled government of Hungary. The majority of Hungarian military units stationed in Budapest and posted to the countryside remained uninvolved in the Revolution, because local unit commanders generally avoided politics, and thus avoided using military force against the political protesters and the revolutionaries of the moment.[67][page needed] Nonetheless, order was restored to the Hungarian People's Republic, and, in the 24–29 October period, there were 71 firefights between the nationalist and anti-communist revolutionaries and the Hungarian army in fifty communities, featuring street fighting in the cities, towns, and villages, and in the country, anti-insurgent warfare against guerrillas, nationalist and anti-communist.[67][page needed]

In the town of Kecskemét on 26 October in which demonstrations in front of the office of State Security and the local jail led to military action by the Third Corps under the orders of Major General Lajos Gyurkó, in which seven protesters were shot and several of the organizers were arrested. In another case, a fighter jet strafed a protest in the town of Tiszakécske, killing 17 people and wounding 117.[67][page needed]

The attacks on the Parliament collapsed of the Communist government of Hungary;[68] and First Secretary Ernő Gerő and ex-prime minister András Hegedüs fled to the USSR; and Imre Nagy became prime minister, and János Kádár became the first secretary of the Communist Party.[69]

On 30 October 1956, National Guard units of Béla Király attacked the building that housed the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party, and summarily killed the communist officers, the ÁVH policemen, and the soldiers they encountered.[70] The Hungarian Revolution took many prisoners whose names were registered to lists of enemies of the people and to death lists.[71]

Throughout Hungary, the Hungarian Communists organised their defences; in the Csepel area of Budapest, 250 Communists defended the Csepel Iron and Steel Works. On 27 October, the Hungarian Army secured the army area re-established order in Csepel; two days later, the Army's withdrawal returned control of the Csepel area to the Hungarian revolutionaries, on 29 October. In the Angyalföld area of Budapest, the Communists led 350 armed workers and 380 soldiers in the defence of the Láng factory. Anti-fascist Hungarian veterans of World War II participated in recapturing the offices of the Szabad Nép communist newspaper. In Békés County, around the town of Szarvas, armed guards stood fast in defence of the Hungarian Communist Party and their government.[72]

As Hungarian revolutionaries fought Soviet tanks with Molotov cocktails in the narrow streets of Budapest, throughout the country, revolutionary workers' councils assumed the powers and authority of government, and called general strikes to halt the economy and the functioning of civil society. To rid Hungary of foreign control from the USSR, the nationalist and anti-communist revolutionaries removed and destroyed the symbols of Communism, such as the red star and memorials to the Red Army, and burned books of Marxism. Throughout Hungary, revolutionary militias arose, such as the 400-man militia group loosely led by József Dudás that attacked or murdered Soviet sympathisers and ÁVH members.[73] Soviet units fought primarily in Budapest, but elsewhere, the countryside was largely quiet. One armoured division stationed in Budapest, commanded by Pál Maléter, instead opted to join the insurgents. Soviet commanders often negotiated local ceasefires with the revolutionaries.[74]

In some regions, Soviet forces managed to quell revolutionary activity. In Budapest, the Soviets were eventually fought to a standstill, and hostilities began to wane. Hungarian general Béla Király, freed from a life sentence for political offences and acting with the support of the Nagy government, sought to restore order by unifying elements of the police, army and insurgent groups into a National Guard.[75] A ceasefire was arranged on 28 October, and by 30 October, most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside.[76]


Fighting ceased between 28 October and 4 November, as many Hungarians believed that Soviet military units were withdrawing from Hungary.[77] According to post-revolution Communist sources, there were approximately 213 Hungarian Working People's Party members lynched or executed during the period.[78]

New governmentEdit

Flyer. Imre Nagy, Head of government – 1956.10.27

The rapid spread of the uprising in the streets of Budapest and the abrupt fall of the Gerő–Hegedüs government left the new national leadership surprised and at first disorganised. Nagy, a loyal party reformer described as possessing "only modest political skills",[79] initially appealed to the public for calm and a return to the old order; however, Nagy, the only remaining Hungarian leader with credibility in both the eyes of the public and the Soviets, "at long last concluded that a popular uprising rather than a counter-revolution was taking place".[80] At 13:20 on 28 October, Nagy announced an immediate and general ceasefire over the radio and, on behalf of the new national government, declared the following:

  • the government would assess the uprising not as counter-revolutionary but as a "great, national and democratic event"[citation needed]
  • an unconditional general ceasefire and amnesty for those who participated in the uprising[citation needed]
  • negotiations with the insurgents[citation needed]
  • the dissolution of the ÁVH[citation needed]
  • the establishment of a national guard[citation needed]
  • the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from Budapest and negotiations for the withdrawal of all Soviet forces from Hungary[citation needed]

On 1 November, in a radio address to the Hungarian people, Nagy formally declared Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact as well as Hungary's stance of neutrality.[67][page needed][81][82][page needed] Because it held office for only ten days, the National Government had little chance to clarify its policies in detail; however, newspaper editorials at the time stressed that Hungary should be a neutral multiparty social democracy.[83] About 8000 political prisoners were released, most notably Cardinal József Mindszenty.[84][85] Political parties that were previously banned, such as the Independent Smallholders and the National Peasant Party (under the name "Petőfi Party"),[86] reappeared to join the coalition.[87]

Crowd cheers Hungarian troops in Budapest

In 1,170 communities across Hungary, there were 348 cases of revolutionary councils and protesters dismissing employees of the local administrative councils, 312 cases of them sacking the persons in charge and 215 cases of them burning the local administrative files and records. In addition, in 681 communities, demonstrators damaged symbols of Soviet authority such as red stars, Stalin or Lenin statues; in 393, they damaged Soviet war memorials; and in 122, book burnings took place.[16][67][page needed]

Local revolutionary councils formed throughout Hungary,[88][89][90][91] generally without involvement from the preoccupied National Government in Budapest, and assumed various responsibilities of local government from the defunct Communist party.[92] By 30 October, the councils had been officially sanctioned by the Hungarian Working People's Party, and the Nagy government asked for their support as "autonomous, democratic local organs formed during the Revolution".[92] Likewise, workers' councils were established at industrial plants and mines, and many unpopular regulations such as production norms were eliminated. The workers' councils strove to manage the enterprise while protecting workers' interests, establishing a socialist economy free of rigid party control.[93] Local control by the councils was not always bloodless; in Debrecen, Győr, Sopron, Mosonmagyaróvár and other cities, crowds of demonstrators were fired upon by the ÁVH, with many lives lost. The ÁVH were disarmed, often by force, in many cases assisted by the local police.[92]

In total, there were approximately 2,100 local revolutionary and workers councils with over 28,000 members. The councils held a combined conference in Budapest that decided to end the nationwide labour strikes and to resume work on 5 November, with the more important councils sending delegates to the Parliament to assure the Nagy government of their support.[67][page needed]

Soviet perspectiveEdit

On 24 October 1956, the Politburo of the USSR discussed options for resolving the political upheavals occurring in the Warsaw Pact countries, specifically the Polish October and the Hungarian Revolt. Led by Vyacheslav Molotov, the hardline faction of the CPSU voted for military intervention, but were opposed by Khrushchev and Marshal Georgy Zhukov. In Budapest, the Soviet delegation reported that the political situation was less serious than reported. Khrushchev said that Ernő Gerő's 23 October request for Soviet intervention indicated that the Hungarian Communist Party retained the confidence of the Hungarian people, because they were protesting unresolved socio-economic problems, not ideology.[41] Moreover, in the West, the concurrent crisis about the illegal Anglo–French seizure of the Suez canal voided any legal justification for Western military intervention to the internal politics of Communist Hungary. In the USSR, on 28 October, Khrushchev said that Soviet military intervention to Hungary would be a mistaken imitation of the imperial intervention of France and Britain in the internal politics of Egypt.[94]

In Russia, on 30 October 1956, the Presidium of the CPSU decided to not depose the new Hungarian government.[95][96] Marshal Zhukov said: "We should withdraw troops from Budapest, and, if necessary, withdraw from Hungary, as a whole. This is a lesson for us in the military-political sphere". The Presidium then adopted and published the Declaration of the Government of the USSR on the Principles of Development and Further Strengthening of Friendship and Cooperation between the Soviet Union and other Socialist States, which said that "The Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People's Republic, and [with] other members of the Warsaw Treaty, on the question of the presence of Soviet troops in the territory of Hungary."[97]

The USSR's repression of the Hungarian Revolution featured T-54 tanks patrolling the streets of Budapest until the Red Army temporarily withdrew on 31 October 1956.
The Hungarian Revolution: The damaged headquarters of the Hungarian Communist Party, on Köztársaság tér, in Budapest.

In Hungary, on 30 October, consequent to hearing rumours of that the secret police had anti-communist prisoners, and rumours of the ÁVH shooting anti-communist demonstrators in the city of Mosonmagyaróvár armed protesters attacked the ÁVH detachment guarding the headquarters building of the Hungarian Working People's Party in Köztársaság tér (Republic Square), in Budapest.[92][98][99] The anti-communists killed more than 20 ÁVH officers and ÁVH conscripts; the head of the Budapest party committee, Imre Mező, also was killed.[100][101] Within hours, news reportage and filmed scenes of the Hungarian anti-communist revolt occurred in Republic Square were broadcast in the USSR; and the CPSU made propaganda of the images of the Communist victims of the Hungarian Revolt.[101][102] The leaders of the Hungarian Revolution condemned the attack upon the ÁVH headquarters and asked the protestors to cease and desist from mob violence.[103]

On 30 October, at Budapest, Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov spoke with Prime Minister Imre Nagy who told them that Hungarian geopolitical neutrality was a long-term political objective for the Hungarian People's Republic, which he wanted to discuss with the presidium of the CPSU.[104][105] Khrushchev considered the geopolitical options for the USSR's resolving the Hungarian anti-communist revolution, but Nagy's declaration of Hungarian neutrality decided his despatching the Red Army into Hungary.[106] The USSR invaded the Hungarian People's Republic, because: [107][108]

  • Simultaneous political movements towards multi-party, parliamentary democracy, and a democratic national council of workers might "lead towards a capitalist state" in Hungary and Poland, each movement challenged the authority of communist parties in eastern Europe.[109][110]
  • The militarists in the CPSU would not understand the USSR's failure to intervene in Hungary. That de-Stalinisation had alienated the hardline members of the CPSU, for whom anti-communist protests threatened Soviet hegemony in eastern Europe. That the workers' uprising in East Germany (17 June 1953) — the repression of which killed 84 protestors and produced 700 anti-communist prisoners — required a new Communist government for the German Democratic Republic.[111] That the workers' protests at Poznań (June 1956) — the repression of which killed 57–78 anti-communist protestors — created the Polish October movement, which installed a Polish Communist government less dependent on orders from Moscow.[112][113][114]
  • Hungarian geopolitical neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact breached the buffer zone of satellite nations by which the USSR protected themselves from invasion.[115]

In the People's Republic of Hungary, the anti-communist militants concluded that "the [Hungarian Communist] Party is the incarnation of bureaucratic despotism" and that "socialism can develop only on the foundations of direct democracy." For the anti-communists, the struggle of the Hungarian workers was "for the principle of direct democracy" and that "all power should be transferred to the Workers Committees of Hungary."[116] In response, the Presidium broke the de facto ceasefire and repressed the Hungarian Revolution.[117] The Soviet Union's plan was to declare a "Provisional Revolutionary Government" led by János Kádár, who would appeal for Soviet assistance to restore order to Hungary. Kádár was in Moscow in early November, and was in communication with the Soviet embassy whilst still a member of the Nagy government.[118][119] The USSR sent diplomatic delegations to other Communist governments in eastern Europe and to the People's Republic of China in effort to avoid misunderstandings that might provoke to regional conflicts, and broadcast propaganda explaining their second Soviet intervention to Hungary. The Soviet diplomats disguised their intentions by engaging the Nagy government in talks about withdrawing the Red Army from Hungary.[120]

Moreover, Mao Zedong influenced Khrushchev's decision to repress the Hungarian uprising. The deputy chairman of the Communist Party of China, Liu Shaoqi, pressed Khrushchev to militarily repress the Hungarian Revolution.[121][122] Although Sino–Soviet relations were unstable, the opinion of Mao carried great weight among the members of the Presidium of the CPSU. Initially, Mao opposed a second intervention, which was communicated to Khrushchev on 30 October, before the Presidium met and decided against an Hungarian intervention;[123] later, Mao changed his mind and supported intervention to Hungary.[124]

In the 1–3 November 1956 period, Khrushchev informed the USSR's Warsaw Pact allies of his decision to repress the Hungarian Revolution. Khrushchev met with the Polish communist politician Władysław Gomułka in Brest, Belarus; and then spoke with the Romanian, Czechoslovak, and Bulgarian leaders in Bucharest, Romania. Finally, Khrushchev went to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and spoke with Tito (Josip Broz) who persuaded Khrushchev to install János Kádár as the new leader of the People's Republic of Hungary, instead of Ferenc Münnich.[125][126] Two months after the USSR repressed the Hungarian Revolution, Tito told Nikolai Firiubin, the Soviet ambassador to Yugoslavia, that "[political] reaction raised its head, especially in Croatia, where the reactionary elements openly incited the employees of the Yugoslav security organs to violence."[127]

Polish responseEdit

Plaque commemorating Polish-Hungarian solidarity during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, at Krakowskie Przedmieście Street 5, in Warsaw.

The events in Hungary met with a very spontaneous reaction in Poland. Hungarian flags were displayed in many Polish towns and villages. After the Soviet invasion, the help given by the ordinary Poles to Hungarians took on a considerable scale. Citizen organizations and self-acting aid committees were established throughout Poland to distribute aid to the Hungarian population, e.g. the Social Civic Committee of Creative Associations (Bydgoszcz), the Student Committee for Aid to Hungarians (Kraków), the Society of Friends of Hungarians (Tarnów), the Committee to Aid the Hungarians (Lublin), and the Committee for Aid to Hungarians (Człuchów) . In addition to the official support coordinated by the Polish Red Cross, only one convoy was dispatched – one organized by the Student Aid Committee for Hungarians from Kraków. Other such initiatives were prevented.[128]

By 12 November, over 11,000 honorary blood donors had registered throughout Poland. Polish Red Cross statistics show that by air transport alone (15 aircraft), 44 tonnes of medication, blood, and other medical supplies were delivered to Hungary. Assistance sent using road and rail transport was much higher. Polish aid is estimated at a value of approximately US$2 million in 1956 dollars.[129][130][131]

International perspectiveEdit

Dutch anti-communists march in moral support for the Hungarian Revolution. (Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 5 November 1956)

On 24 October 1956, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (r. 1953–1959) recommended that the United Nations Security Council convene to discuss the USSR's invasion and occupation of the Hungarian People's Republic, without decisive result,[132] because, despite the Protocol of Sèvres (22–24 October 1956), the Anglo–French imperial intervention to Egyptian politics — the Suez crisis caused by Britain and France seizing the Egyptian Suez canal — disallowed the West to criticise the imperialism of the USSR; the U.S. vice-president R.M. Nixon said that: “We couldn’t, on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary, and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against [Gamel Abdel] Nasser.”[43] Despite earlier demands for the rollback of Communism and of the Leftist liberation of eastern Europe, Dulles told the USSR that: “We do not see these states [Hungary and Poland] as potential military allies.”[84]

The Eisenhower government relied upon the CIA organising an anti-communist coup d’état in the Hungarian People's Republic, which failed because CIA case officers did not know who were the politically reliable anti-communists to arm against the Stalinist Rákosi government supported by the USSR.[45] By 28 October, the day that the Nagy government assumed power, CIA case officer Frank Wisner ordered Radio Free Europe to broadcast false encouragement to the Hungarians, that they continue battling the Hungarian communists and the Red Army until outside help arrived. When the Nagy government assumed power, CIA director Allen Dulles told the U.S. president to suggest to the Hungarians that the anti-communist Cardinal József Mindszenty would be a better choice to lead Hungary, because Imre Nagy was a Communist, whom Radio Free Europe falsely accused of having invited the USSR to invade and occupy Hungary. Moreover, because CIA had no espionage network in Communist Hungary, the CIA mistakenly believed that the Hungarian Army had sided with the anti-communist and nationalist revolutionaries.[133]

On 4 November 1956, the USSR vetoed the Security Council's resolution criticising the USSR's invasion of Hungary, and, in its stead, passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 120, which charged the General Assembly to demand that the USSR withdraw the Red Army from Hungary. Despite 50 votes for withdrawal, 8 votes against withdrawal, and 15 abstentions from the matter, the Communist Kádár government of Hungary rejected the presence of UN observers in the Hungarian People's Republic.[134]

In the U.S., two facts determined the inaction of the Eisenhower government: (i) the U.S. Army study, Hungary, Resistance Activities and Potentials (January 1956), which recommended against U.S. military intervention to Hungary on the side of the Hungarian revolutionists;[135] and (ii) the secret warfare of the National Security Council that encouraged anti-communist political discontent in the Eastern Bloc only through psychological warfare, sabotage, and economic warfare.[43][136]

Throughout the counter-revolutionary events, Radio Free Europe (RFE) continually encouraged the Hungarian revolutionaries, nationalist and anti-communist, to battle the Red Army and the Hungarian communists until outside help, from NATO, arrived at the borders of Hungary. After the USSR defeated the anti-communist Hungarian Revolution, the revolutionists criticised the CIA and their RFE network for having deceived the Hungarians into believing that the West — the NATO and the US — would expel the USSR from the Hungarian People's Republic.[137] In the event, Dulles of the CIA deceived Pres. Eisenhower about the broadcasting of mendacious promises of external military support for the anti-communist Hungarians. Eisenhower believed Dulles, because CIA had classified and hidden the transcriptions of the mendacious CIA broadcasts that falsely promised military aid the Hungarian revolutionaries to overthrow the Communist government of Hungary.[133]

In 1998, the Hungarian ambassador Géza Jeszenszky criticised Western inaction in 1956 as disingenuous, recalling that the political influence of the United Nations readily applied to resolving the Korean War (1950–1953).[138] Moreover, the study Hungary, 1956: Reviving the Debate over U.S. (In)action During the Revolution confirms that the Eisenhower government did not intervene to the Hungarian Revolution — which occurred in the Soviet sphere of influence — because the USSR would have responded with a nuclear war.[139]

Soviet intervention of 4 NovemberEdit

1 November newsreel about the situation in Hungary

On 1 November, Imre Nagy received reports that Soviet forces had entered Hungary from the east and were moving towards Budapest.[140] Nagy sought and received assurances, which proved to be false, from Soviet Ambassador Yuri Andropov that the Soviet Union would not invade. The Cabinet, with János Kádár in agreement, declared Hungary's neutrality, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and requested assistance from the diplomatic corps in Budapest and Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary-General, to defend Hungary's neutrality.[141] Andropov was asked to inform his government that Hungary would begin negotiations on the removal of Soviet forces immediately.[142][143]

On 3 November, a Hungarian delegation led by Defence Minister Pál Maléter was invited to attend negotiations on Soviet withdrawal at the Soviet Military Command at Tököl, near Budapest. At around midnight that evening, General Ivan Serov, Chief of the Soviet Security Police (KGB) ordered the arrest of the Hungarian delegation,[144] and the next day, the Soviet army again attacked Budapest.[145]

A Soviet built armored car (BTR-152) burns on a street in Budapest in November

The second Soviet intervention, codenamed "Operation Whirlwind", was launched by Marshal Ivan Konev.[108][146] The five Soviet divisions that had been stationed in Hungary before 23 October were augmented to a total strength of 17 divisions.[147] The 8th Mechanized Army under command of Lieutenant General Hamazasp Babadzhanian and the 38th Army under Lieutenant General Hadzhi-Umar Mamsurov from the nearby Carpathian Military District were deployed to Hungary for the operation.[148] Some rank-and-file Soviet soldiers reportedly believed they were being sent to East Berlin to fight German fascists.[149] By 21:30 on 3 November, the Soviet Army had completely encircled Budapest.[150]

At 03:00 on 4 November, Soviet tanks penetrated Budapest along the Pest side of the Danube in two thrusts: one up the Soroksári road from the south and the other down the Váci road from the north. Thus, before a single shot was fired, the Soviets had effectively split the city into two, controlled all bridgeheads and were shielded to the rear by the wide Danube River. Armoured units crossed into Buda and, at 04:25, fired the first shots at the army barracks on Budaörsi Road. Soon, Soviet artillery and tank fire were heard in all of the districts of Budapest.[150] Operation Whirlwind combined air strikes, artillery, and the co-ordinated tank–infantry action of 17 divisions.[151] The Soviet army deployed T-34-85 medium tanks as well as the new T-54s, heavy IS-3 tanks, 152mm ISU-152 mobile assault guns and open-top BTR-152 armored personnel carriers.[152]

Two disabled Soviet ISU-152 assault guns in Budapest's 8th District with an abandoned T-34/85 tank in the background.

Between 4 and 9 November, the Hungarian Army put up sporadic and disorganised resistance, with Zhukov reporting the disarming of twelve divisions, two armoured regiment and the entire Hungarian Air Force. Hungarian fighters continued its most formidable resistance in various districts of Budapest (most famously in the Battle of the Corvin Passage) and in and around the city of Pécs in the Mecsek Mountains and in the industrial centre of Dunaújváros (then called Stalintown). Fighting in Budapest consisted of between ten and fifteen thousand resistance fighters, with the heaviest fighting occurring in the working-class stronghold of Csepel on the Danube River.[153][page needed] Although some very senior officers were openly pro-Soviet, the rank-and-file soldiers were overwhelmingly loyal to the revolution and either fought against the invasion or deserted. The UN reported that there were no recorded incidents of Hungarian Army units fighting for the Soviets.[154]

At 05:20 on 4 November, Imre Nagy broadcast his final plea to the nation and the world and announced that Soviet Forces were attacking Budapest and that the government was remaining at its post.[155] The radio station, Free Kossuth Rádió, stopped broadcasting at 08:07.[156] An emergency Cabinet meeting was held in the Parliament but was attended by only three ministers. As Soviet troops arrived to occupy the building, a negotiated evacuation ensued, leaving Minister of State István Bibó as the last representative of the National Government remaining at his post.[157] He wrote For Freedom and Truth, a stirring proclamation to the nation and the world.[158]

Ruszkik haza! ("Russians go home!") slogan in Budapest

At 06:00, 4 November,[159] in the town of Szolnok, János Kádár proclaimed the "Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government". His statement declared: "We must put an end to the excesses of the counter-revolutionary elements. The hour for action has sounded. We are going to defend the interest of the workers and peasants and the achievements of the people's democracy."[160]

Later that evening, Kádár called upon "the faithful fighters of the true cause of socialism" to come out of hiding and take up arms; however, Hungarian support did not materialise, and the fighting did not take on the character of an internally-divisive civil war, but rather, in the words of a United Nations report, that of "a well-equipped foreign army crushing by overwhelming force a national movement and eliminating the Government".[161]

Rubble after end of fighting in Budapest 8th District

By 08:00, organised defence of the city evaporated after the radio station had been seized, and many defenders fell back to fortified positions.[162] During the same hour, the parliamentary guard laid down their arms, and forces under Major General K. Grebennik captured Parliament and liberated captured ministers of the RákosiHegedüs government. Among the liberated were István Dobi and Sándor Rónai, both of whom became members of the re-established socialist Hungarian government.[153] As they came under attack even in civilian quarters, Soviet troops were unable to differentiate military from civilian targets.[163] For that reason, Soviet tanks often crept along main roads and fired indiscriminately into buildings.[162] Hungarian resistance was strongest in the industrial areas of Budapest, with Csepel heavily targeted by Soviet artillery and air strikes.[164]

The longest holdouts against the Soviet assault occurred in Csepel and in Dunaújváros, where fighting lasted until 11 November before the insurgents finally succumbed to the Soviets.[67][page needed] At the end of the fighting, Hungarian casualties totalled around 2,500 dead with an additional 20,000 wounded. Budapest bore the brunt of the bloodshed, with 1,569 civilians killed.[67][page needed] Approximately 53% of the dead were workers, and about half of all the casualties were people younger than thirty. On the Soviet side, 699 men were killed, 1,450 men were wounded, and 51 men were missing in action. Estimates place around 80% of all casualties occurring in the fighting with the insurgents in the eighth and ninth districts of Budapest.[67][page needed][165][166]

Soviet perspectiveEdit

Soviet reports of the events surrounding, during and after the disturbance were remarkably consistent in their accounts, more so after the Second Soviet intervention cemented support for the Soviet position among international Communist parties. Pravda published an account 36 hours after the outbreak of violence that set the tone for all further reports and subsequent Soviet historiography:[167][page needed]

  1. On 23 October, the honest socialist Hungarians demonstrated against mistakes made by the Rákosi and Gerő governments.
  2. Fascist, Hitlerite, reactionary and counter-revolutionary hooligans financed by the imperialist West took advantage of the unrest to stage a counter-revolution.
  3. The honest Hungarian people under Nagy appealed to Soviet (Warsaw Pact) forces stationed in Hungary to assist in restoring order.
  4. The Nagy government was ineffective by allowing itself to be penetrated by counter-revolutionary influences, weakening and disintegrating, as proven by Nagy's culminating denouncement of the Warsaw Pact.
  5. Hungarian patriots under Kádár broke with the Nagy government and formed a government of honest Hungarian revolutionary workers and peasants. The genuinely-popular government petitioned the Soviet command to help put down the counter-revolution.
  6. Hungarian patriots, with Soviet assistance, smashed the counter-revolution.

The first Soviet report came out 24 hours after the first Western report. Nagy's appeal to the United Nations was not reported. After Nagy was arrested outside the Yugoslav embassy, his arrest was not reported. Also, accounts failed to explain how Nagy went from patriot to traitor.[168] The Soviet press reported calm in Budapest, but the Western press reported a revolutionary crisis was breaking out. According to the Soviet account, Hungarians never wanted a revolution at all.[167][page needed]

In January 1957, representatives of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania met in Budapest to review internal developments in Hungary since the establishment of the Soviet-imposed government. A communiqué on the meeting "unanimously concluded" that Hungarian workers, with the leadership of the Kádár government and the support of the Soviet army, defeated attempts "to eliminate the socialist achievements of the Hungarian people".[169]

The Soviet, Chinese, and Warsaw Pact governments urged Kádár to proceed with the interrogation and trial of the ministers of the Nagy government, and asked for punitive measures against the "counter-revolutionists".[169][170] In addition, the Kádár government published an extensive series of "white books" (The Counter-Revolutionary Forces in the October Events in Hungary) that documented real incidents of violence against Communist party and ÁVH members and the confessions of Nagy's supporters. The "white books" were widely distributed in several languages in most socialist countries and, while based in fact, they present factual evidence with a colouring and narrative that are not generally supported by non-Soviet-aligned historians.[171]



In the immediate aftermath, many thousands of Hungarians were arrested. Eventually, 26,000 of these were brought before the Hungarian courts, 22,000 were sentenced and imprisoned, 13,000 interned, and 229 executed. Approximately 200,000[172] fled Hungary as refugees.[173][174][175] Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky estimated 350 were executed.[138] Sporadic resistance and strikes by workers' councils continued until mid-1957, causing economic disruption.[176] By 1963, most political prisoners from the 1956 Hungarian revolution had been released.[177]

With most of Budapest under Soviet control by 8 November, Kádár became Prime Minister of the "Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government" and General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. Few Hungarians rejoined the reorganised Party, its leadership having been purged under the supervision of the Soviet Praesidium, led by Georgy Malenkov and Mikhail Suslov.[178] Although Party membership declined from 800,000 before the uprising to 100,000 by December 1956, Kádár steadily increased his control over Hungary and neutralised dissenters. The new government attempted to enlist support by espousing popular principles of Hungarian self-determination voiced during the uprising, but Soviet troops remained.[179] After 1956 the Soviet Union severely purged the Hungarian Army and reinstituted political indoctrination in the units that remained. In May 1957, the Soviet Union increased its troop levels in Hungary and by treaty Hungary accepted the Soviet presence on a permanent basis.[180]

The Red Cross and the Austrian Army established refugee camps in Traiskirchen and Graz.[175][181] Imre Nagy along with Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy, and László Rajk's widow, Júlia, took refuge in the Embassy of Yugoslavia as Soviet forces overran Budapest. Despite assurances of safe passage out of Hungary by the Soviets and the Kádár government, Nagy and his group were arrested when attempting to leave the embassy on 22 November and taken to Romania. Losonczy died while on a hunger strike in prison awaiting trial when his jailers "carelessly pushed a feeding tube down his windpipe".[182]

The remainder of the group was returned to Budapest in 1958. Nagy was executed, along with Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes, after secret trials in June 1958. Their bodies were placed in unmarked graves in the Municipal Cemetery outside Budapest.[183]

During the November 1956 Soviet assault on Budapest, Cardinal Mindszenty was granted political asylum at the United States embassy, where he lived for the next 15 years, refusing to leave Hungary unless the government reversed his 1949 conviction for treason. Because of poor health and a request from the Vatican, he finally left the embassy for Austria in September 1971.[184]

Nicolas Krassó was one of the left leaders of the Hungarian uprising and member of the New Left Review editorial committee. In an interview he gave to Peter Gowan shortly before his death, Krassó summed up the meaning of the Hungarian Revolution with a recollection from Stalin's short speech in the 19th Congress of the Soviet Union in 1952: "Stalin kept silent throughout the Congress till the very end when he made a short speech that covers about two and a half printed pages. He said there were two banners that the progressive bourgeoisie had thrown away and which the working class should pick up—the banners of democracy and national independence. Certainly nobody could doubt that in 1956 the Hungarian workers raised these banners high."[185][page needed]


Despite Cold War rhetoric from western countries espousing rollback of the Soviet domination of eastern Europe, and Soviet promises of socialism's imminent triumph, national leaders of this period (as well as later historians) saw the failure of the Hungarian Revolution as evidence that the Cold War had become a stalemate in Europe.[186]

Heinrich von Brentano di Tremezzo, the Foreign Minister of West Germany, recommended that the people of Eastern Europe be discouraged from "taking dramatic action which might have disastrous consequences for themselves". The Secretary-General of NATO called the Hungarian revolt "the collective suicide of a whole people".[187] In a newspaper interview in 1957, Khrushchev commented "support by United States ... is rather in the nature of the support that the rope gives to a hanged man".[188]

Eleanor Roosevelt meets exiled Hungarian revolutionaries at Camp Roeder in Salzburg, 10 May 1957

In January 1957, United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, acting in response to UN General Assembly resolutions requesting investigation and observation of the events in Soviet-occupied Hungary, established the Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary.[189] The committee, with representatives from Australia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Denmark, Tunisia and Uruguay, conducted hearings in New York, Geneva, Rome, Vienna and London. Over five months, 111 refugees were interviewed including ministers, military commanders and other officials of the Nagy government, workers, revolutionary council members, factory managers and technicians, Communists and non-Communists, students, writers, teachers, medical personnel, and Hungarian soldiers. Documents, newspapers, radio transcripts, photos, film footage, and other records from Hungary were also reviewed, as well as written testimony of 200 other Hungarians.[190]

The governments of Hungary and Romania refused entry to the officials of this committee, and the government of the Soviet Union did not respond to requests for information.[191] The 268-page Committee Report[192] was presented to the General Assembly in June 1957, documenting the course of the uprising and Soviet intervention and concluding that "the Kádár government and Soviet occupation were in violation of the human rights of the Hungarian people".[193] A General Assembly resolution was approved, deploring "the repression of the Hungarian people and the Soviet occupation", but no other action was taken.[194]

The chairman of the Special Committee was Alsing Andersen, a Danish politician and leading figure of Denmark's Social Democratic Party, who had served in the Buhl government in 1942 during the Nazi German occupation of Denmark. He had defended collaboration with the occupation forces and denounced the resistance. He was appointed Interior Minister in 1947, but resigned after scrutiny of his 1940 role as Defense Minister. He then entered Denmark's UN delegation in 1948.[195][196] The Committee Report and the motives of its authors were criticised by the delegations to the United Nations from the Soviet Union and Kádár government. The Hungarian representative disagreed with the report's conclusions, accusing it of falsifying the events, and argued that the establishment of the committee was illegal. The committee was accused of being hostile to Hungary and its social system.[197] An article in the Soviet journal "International Affairs", published by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, carried an article in 1957 in which it denounced the report as a "collection of falsehoods and distortions".[198]

Time named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter its Man of the Year for 1956. The accompanying Time article comments that this choice could not have been anticipated until the explosive events of the revolution, almost at the end of 1956. The magazine cover and accompanying text displayed an artist's depiction of a Hungarian freedom fighter, and used pseudonyms for the three participants whose stories are the subject of the article.[199] In 2006, Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány referred to this famous Time cover as "the faces of free Hungary" in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the uprising.[200] Mr Gyurcsány (in a joint appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair) commented "It is an idealised image but the faces of the figures are really the face of the revolutionaries".[201]

At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the Soviet handling of the Hungarian uprising led to a boycott by Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland.[202] A confrontation between Soviet and Hungarian teams occurred in the semi-final match of the water polo tournament on 6 December. The match was extremely violent, and was halted in the final minute to quell fighting among spectators. This match, now known as the "blood in the water match", became the subject of several films.[203][204] The Hungarian team won the game 4–0 and later was awarded the Olympic gold medal. Norway declined an invitation to the inaugural Bandy World Championship in 1957, citing the presence of a team from the Soviet Union as the reason.

On Sunday, 28 October 1956, as some 55 million Americans watched Ed Sullivan's popular television variety show, with the then 21-year-old Elvis Presley headlining for the second time, Sullivan asked viewers to send aid to Hungarian refugees fleeing from the effects of the Soviet invasion. Presley himself made another request for donations during his third and last appearance on Sullivan's show on 6 January 1957. Presley then dedicated a song for the finale, which he thought fitted the mood of the time, namely the gospel song "Peace in the Valley". By the end of 1957, these contributions, distributed by the Geneva-based International Red Cross as food rations, clothing and other essentials, had amounted to some CHF 26 million (US$6 million in 1957 dollars), the equivalent of $55,300,000 in today's dollars.[205] On 1 March 2011, István Tarlós, the Mayor of Budapest, made Presley an honorary citizen posthumously, and a plaza located at the intersection of two of the city's most important avenues was named after Presley as a gesture of gratitude.

Meanwhile, as the 1950s drew to a close the events in Hungary produced fractures within the Communist political parties of Western European countries. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) suffered a split. According to the official newspaper of the PCI, l'Unità, most ordinary members and the Party leadership, including Palmiro Togliatti and Giorgio Napolitano, supported the actions of the Soviet Union in suppressing the uprising.[206] However, Giuseppe Di Vittorio, chief of the Communist trade union CGIL, spoke out against the leadership's position, as did prominent party members Antonio Giolitti, Loris Fortuna, and many others influential in the Communist party. Pietro Nenni of the Italian Socialist Party, a close ally of the PCI, opposed the Soviet intervention as well. Napolitano, elected in 2006 as President of the Italian Republic, wrote in his 2005 political autobiography that he regretted his justification of Soviet action in Hungary, stating at the time he believed that party unity and the leadership of Soviet Communism was more important.[207][page needed]

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) suffered the loss of thousands of party members following the events in Hungary. Though Peter Fryer, correspondent for the CPGB newspaper The Daily Worker, reported on the violent suppression of the uprising, his dispatches were heavily censored by the party leadership.[149] Upon his return from Hungary Fryer resigned from the paper. He was later expelled by the Communist Party.

In France, moderate Communists, such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, resigned, questioning the French Communist Party's policy of supporting Soviet actions. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote an open letter, The Blood of the Hungarians, criticising the West's lack of action. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, still a determined Communist, criticised the Soviets in his article Le Fantôme de Staline, in Situations VII.[208] Left communists[who?] were particularly supportive of the revolution.[citation needed]


Memorial plaque at the Embassy of Serbia, Budapest in memory of Imre Nagy who took sanctuary there during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956

In the north-west corner of MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California, the Hungarian-American community built a commemorative statue to honour the Hungarian freedom fighters. Built in the late 1960s, the obelisk statue stands with an American eagle watching over the city of Los Angeles. There are several monuments dedicated to the Commemoration of the Hungarian Revolution throughout the United States. One such monument may be found in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Cardinal Mindszenty Plaza. There is also a monument of A Boy From Pest in the town of Szczecin, Poland. Denver has Hungarian Freedom Park, named in 1968 to commemorate the uprising.[209]

Public discussion about the revolution was suppressed in Hungary for more than 30 years. Since the thaw of the 1980s, it has been a subject of intense study and debate. At the inauguration of the Third Hungarian Republic in 1989, 23 October was declared a national holiday.

On 16 June 1989, the 31st anniversary of his execution, Imre Nagy's body was reburied with full honours.[183] The Republic of Hungary was declared in 1989 on the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution, and 23 October is now a Hungarian national holiday.[210]

In December 1991, the preamble of the treaties with the dismembered Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and Russia, represented by Boris Yeltsin, apologised officially for the 1956 Soviet actions in Hungary. This apology was repeated by Yeltsin in 1992 during a speech to the Hungarian parliament.[138]

On 13 February 2006, the U.S. State Department commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commented on the contributions made by 1956 Hungarian refugees to the United States and other host countries, as well as the role of Hungary in providing refuge to East Germans during the 1989 protests against Communist rule.[211] U.S. President George W. Bush also visited Hungary on 22 June 2006 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary.[212]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) estimated 75,000–200,000 soldiers and 1,600–4,000 tanks (p. 56). Soviet archives (available in, Maksim Moshkow's Library) list 31,550 soldiers, 1,130 tanks, and self-propelled artillery pieces. Archived 9 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine (in Russian).
  2. ^ Alternate names for the revolution are Hungarian Uprising and Hungarian Revolt; the first term used the word felkelés ("uprising"); in the Communist period of 1957–1988, the term used was Ellenforradalom (Counter-revolution); and, since 1990, the official term for the Hungarian Revolution is the phrase: Forradalom és szabadságharc (Revolution and the Fight for Freedom), which evokes the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Linguistically, whereas the English revolution corresponds to the Hungarian forradalom (U.S. State Dept. background on Hungary), the Oxford English Dictionary distinguishes between a revolution, which deposes a government, and an armed revolt, which might fail or succeed.


  1. ^ Györkei, J.; Kirov, A.; Horvath, M. (1999). Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956. New York: Central European University Press. p. 370. ISBN 963-9116-35-1.
  2. ^ UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) "Chapter V, footnote 8" (PDF).
  3. ^ "B&J": Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson, International Conflict : A Chronological Encyclopedia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945–1995 (1997)[page needed]
  4. ^ “Hungarian Revolt of 1956”, Dictionary of Wars(2007) Third Edition, George Childs Kohn, Ed. pp. 237–238.
  5. ^ "50 Years Since the Hungarian Workers' Uprising". International Communist Current. Retrieved 4 September 2021.
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  158. ^ Bibó, István. "Nyilatkozat, 1956. November 4." [Declaration, 4 November 1956]. Válogatott tanulmányok [Assorted studies] (in Hungarian). 4, 1935–1979. ifj. István Bibó, Tibor Huszár. Retrieved 30 October 2009. in Hungarian: Magyarok! Nagy Imre miniszterelnök a ma hajnali szovjet támadáskor a szovjet követségre ment a tárgyalások folytatására, és onnan visszatérni már nem tudott. A reggel összehívott minisztertanácson a Parlament épületében tartózkodó Tildy Zoltánon kívül már csak B. Szabó István és Bibó István államminiszter tudott megérkezni. Mikor a Parlamentet a szovjet csapatok körülfogták, Tildy államminiszter a vérontás elkerülése végett megállapodást kötött velük, mely szerint ők megszállják az épületet, a benne levő polgári személyek pedig szabadon távozhatnak. Ő, a megállapodáshoz tartva magát, eltávozott. Az országgyűlés épületében egyedül alulírott Bibó István államminiszter maradtam, mint az egyedüli törvényes magyar kormány egyedüli képviselője. Ebben a helyzetben a következőket nyilatkozom: In English: To My Fellow Hungarians! When the Soviet Army attacked today at dawn, Prime Minister Nagy Imre went to the Soviet Embassy to negotiate and could not return. Tildy Zoltán, who was already in the Parliament building, and ministers Szabó István and Bibó István attended the council of ministers meeting that was convened this morning. As Soviet troops surrounded the Parliament building, minister Tildy Zoltán, to avoid bloodshed, reached an agreement, by which Soviet soldiers would occupy the Parliament building and allow all civilians to evacuate. According to this agreement, he then departed. Only the undersigned, Bibó István, remained in the Psrliament building as the only representative of the only existing legal Hungarian government. Under these circumstances, I make the following declaration: (Available in English)
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  163. ^ UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) "Chapter V.C, para 198 (p. 61)" (PDF). (1.47 MB)
  164. ^ UN General Assembly Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957) "Chapter V. B (The Second Soviet Military Intervention), para 200 (p. 62)" (PDF). (1.47 MB)
  165. ^ Mark Kramer, "The Soviet Union and the 1956 Crises in Hungary and Poland: Reassessments and New Findings", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 33, No. 2, April 1998, p. 210.
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  168. ^ Pravda (Moscow), 4 November [227/228]: "Without the Slightest Delay", Moscow. "Imre Nagy turned out to be, objectively speaking, an accomplice of the reactionary forces. Imre Nagy cannot and does not want to fight the dark forces of reaction ... The Soviet Government, seeing that the presence of Soviet troops in Budapest might lead to further aggravation of the situation, ordered troops to leave Budapest, but ensuing events have shown that reactionary forces, taking advantage of the non-intervention of the Nagy Cabinet, have gone still further ... The task of barring the way to reaction in Hungary has to be carried out without the slightest delay—such is the course dictated by events ..." Retrieved 2007-10-8 Archived 17 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  169. ^ a b George Washington University: The National Security Archive, Communiqué on the Meeting of Representatives of the Governments and the Communist and Workers' Parties of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Soviet Union (Budapest, 6 January 1957), Retrieved 7 December 2008
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  171. ^ The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents by Csaba Békés & Malcolm Byrne (Published by Central European University Press, 2002, ISBN 963-9241-66-0, ISBN 978-963-9241-66-4), p. 375, para 4: "... the (Kádár) regime had to find an explanation for the revolution and collapse of the old regime in October 1956 ... they chose to interpret the uprising as a conspiracy by anti-communist, reactionary forces. This is why they labeled many ordinary citizens' actions as crimes. Critical opposition attitudes were described as "a plot to overthrow the people's democratic regime", and workers and peasants who took part in the revolt were called "jailbirds, ragamuffins, and kulaks." Armed resistance to occupying forces became "murder and wrecking state property." This kind of terminology became part of the official ideology of the regime toward the outside world." Also p. 375, footnote 40: "For a typical survey of propaganda intended for distribution abroad, see the so called "White Books" entitled The Counter-Revolutionary Forces in the October Events in Hungary, 4 vols., (Budapest: Information Bureau of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic, 1956–1957) ... The White Books published in the individual counties of Hungary in 1957–1958 summarized local "counter-revolutionary" events."
  172. ^ Casardi, A. (17 April 1957) Report on Hungarian Refugees. NATO
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  196. ^ Alsing Andersen. Retrieved on 28 October 2016.
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  207. ^ Napolitano, Giorgio (2005). Dal Pci al socialismo europeo. Un'autobiografia politica (From the Communist Party to European Socialism. A political autobiography) (in Italian). Laterza. ISBN 88-420-7715-1.
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Further readingEdit

Historiography and memoryEdit

  • Cash, John Joseph. "Commemoration and Contestation of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary." Comparative Hungarian Cultural Studies (2011): 247–258.
  • Cox, Terry. Hungary 1956 – forty Years on (London: F. Cass, 1997)
  • Csipke, Zoltán. "The changing significance of the 1956 revolution in post-communist Hungary." Europe-Asia Studies 63.1 (2011): 99–128 p Online].
  • Erőss, Ágnes. "'In memory of victims': Monument and counter-monument in Liberty Square, Budapest." Hungarian Geographical Bulletin 65.3 (2016): 237–254. Online
  • Gyáni, Gábor. "Memory and discourse on the 1956 Hungarian revolution." Europe-Asia Studies 58.8 (2006): 1199–1208.
  • Gyáni, Gábor. "Revolution, uprising, civil war: the conceptual dilemmas of 1956." European Review of History – Revue européenne d'histoire 15.5 (2008): 519–531. Online
  • Heller, Ágnes, and Ferenc Fehér. Hungary 1956 Revisited: The Message of a Revolution-a Quarter of a Century After (George Allen and Unwin, 1983).
  • Mark, James. "Antifascism, the 1956 Revolution and the politics of communist autobiographies in Hungary 1944–2000." Europe-Asia Studies 58.8 (2006): 1209–1240. Online
  • Nyyssönen, Heino, and Jussi Metsälä. "Building on legacy and tradition: commemorations of 1956 in Hungary." National Identities 21.4 (2019): 379–393. Online

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Beke, Laszlo. A student's diary: Budapest, October 16 – November 1, 1956 (NY: Macmillan, 1957).
  • Bekes, Csaba; Byrne, Malcolm; Rainer, Janos, eds. (2003). The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents (National Security Archive Cold War Readers). Central European University Press. p. 600. ISBN 963-9241-66-0.
  • Granville, Johanna (1999) In the Line of Fire: New Archival Evidence on the Soviet Intervention in Hungary, 1956, Carl Beck Paper, no. 1307 (1999).  
  • Haraszti-Taylor, Eva, ed. The Hungarian revolution of 1956: a collection of documents from the British Foreign Office (Nottingham: Astra Press, 1995).
  • Korda, Michael. Journey to a Revolution: A Personal Memoir and History of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Harper Perennial (2006). ISBN 978-0-06-077262-8
  • Lasky, Melvin J. The Hungarian revolution; a white book: The story of the October uprising as recorded in documents, dispatches, eye-witness accounts, and world-wide reactions (Books for Libraries Press, 1970).
  • Lomax, William, ed. Hungarian workers' councils in 1956 (East European Monographs, 1990).
  • Nagy, Imre. On communism: In defense of the new course (Praeger, 1957).
  • Napolitano, Giorgio (2005). Dal Pci al socialismo europeo. Un'autobiografia politica (From the Communist Party to European Socialism. A political autobiography) (in Italian). Laterza. ISBN 88-420-7715-1.
  • United Nations: Report of the Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary, General Assembly, Official Records, Eleventh Session, Supplement No. 18 (A/3592), New York, 1957 "(268 pages)" (PDF). (1.47 MB)

External linksEdit

Historical collectionsEdit

Other academic sourcesEdit

Feature filmsEdit

  • The Beast of Budapest, a 1958 American film
  • Freedom's Fury The 2005 documentary film depicting events surrounding the Hungarian–Soviet confrontation in the Olympic water polo tournament, now known as the "blood in the water match". Narrated by Mark Spitz, produced by Lucy Liu and Quentin Tarantino.
  • Torn from the flag Documentary film 2007. The significant global effects of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
  • Freedom Dance Multi award-winning animated documentary produced by Steven Thomas Fischer and Craig Herron. The film retells the escape of Edward and Judy Hilbert from Communist Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The film is narrated by Golden Globe-winning actress Mariska Hargitay.
  • The Unburied Man Drama film on the life of Imre Nagy.