Hungarian Revolution of 1956

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Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Part of the Cold War
A destroyed SU-85 self-propelled gun at the Móricz Zsigmond Square
A destroyed SU-85 self-propelled gun at the Móricz Zsigmond Square
Date October 23, 1956 – November 10, 1956
Location Hungary
Result Revolution failed
State Security Police massacre of unarmed protestors
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union;
Flag of Hungary 1949-1956.gif ÁVH (Hungarian State Security Police)
Hungarian Revolution Flag of 1956.gif Ad hoc local Hungarian militias
Ivan Konev Various independent militia leaders
150,000 troops,
6,000 tanks
Unknown number of militia and soldiers
722 killed,
1,251 wounded[1]
2,500 killed
13,000 wounded[2]

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (or Hungarian Uprising of 1956)[3] was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Communist government of Hungary and its Soviet imposed policies, lasting from October 23 until November 10, 1956. It began as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast their demands was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands organized into militias, battling the State Security Police (ÁVH) and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned, as former prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the communist party, and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normalcy began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to quash the revolution. On November 4, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest, killing thousands of civilians. Organized resistance ceased by November 10, and mass arrests began. An estimated 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe, cultivating the perception that communism was both irreversible and monolithic.

Public discussion about this revolution was suppressed in Hungary for over 30 years, but 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, October 23 was declared a national holiday.


After World War II, the Soviet military occupied Hungary and gradually replaced the freely elected government (Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party) with the Hungarian Communist Party.[4] Radical nationalization of the economy based on the Soviet model produced economic stagnation, lower standards of living and a deep malaise.[5] Writers and journalists were the first to voice open criticism, publishing critical articles in 1955.[6] By October 22, 1956, university students had resurrected the banned MEFESZ student union,[7] and staged a demonstration on October 23 which set off a chain of events leading directly to the revolution.

Postwar occupation

After World War II, Hungary fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and was occupied by the Red Army.[8] By 1949 the Soviets had concluded a "mutual assistance treaty" with Hungary which granted the Soviet Union rights to a continued military presence, assuring ultimate political control.[9]

Hungary began the postwar period as a multiparty free democracy, and elections in 1945 produced a coalition government of the Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party under Prime Minister Zoltán Tildy.[10] However, the Soviet-supported Hungarian Communist Party, which had received only 17 percent of the vote, constantly wrested small concessions in a process named "salami tactics," which sliced away the elected government's influence.[11]

In 1945 Soviet Marshal Kliment Voroshilov forced the freely elected Hungarian government to yield the Interior Ministry to the Hungarian Communist Party. Communist interior minister László Rajk established the State Protection Authority, the Hungarian State Security Police (Államvédelmi Hatóság, later known as the ÁVH), which employed methods of intimidation, false accusations, imprisonment and torture, to suppress political opposition.[12] The brief period of multiparty democracy came to an end when the Hungarian Communist Party merged with the Social Democratic Party to become the Hungarian Workers' Party, which stood its candidate list unopposed in 1949. The People's Republic of Hungary was declared.[4]

Political repression and economic decline

Hungary became a communist state under the strongly authoritarian leadership of Mátyás Rákos] The Security Police (ÁVH) began a series of purges in which dissidents were denounced as “Titoists” or “western agents,” and forced to confess in show trials.[13] Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, tortured, tried, and imprisoned in concentration camps or were executed, including ÁVH founder László Rajk.[13][14]

The Rákosi government thoroughly politicized Hungary's educational system in order to supplant the educated classes with a "toiling intelligentsia."[15] Russian language study and Communist political instruction were made mandatory in schools and universities nationwide. Religious schools were nationalized and church leaders were replaced by those loyal to the government.[16] In 1949 the leader of the Hungarian Catholic Church, József Cardinal Mindszenty, was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.[17] Under Rákosi, Hungary's government was among the most repressive in Europe.[4][14]

The postwar Hungarian economy suffered from multiple challenges. Hungary agreed to pay war reparations approximating US$300 million, to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and to support Soviet garrisons.[18] The Hungarian National Bank estimated the cost of reparations as "between 19 and 22 per cent of the annual national income."[19] Moreover, Hungary's participation in the Soviet-sponsored COMECON (Council Of Mutual Economic Assistance), prevented it from trading with the West or receiving Marshall Plan aid.[20] Postwar economic recovery reversed under the Rákosi government. The Hungarian currency experienced marked depreciation in 1946, resulting in the highest historical rates of hyperinflation known.[21] By 1952, disposable real incomes sank to two-thirds of their 1938 levels; whereas in 1949, this figure had been 90 percent.[22] By 1953, post-war Hungarian manufacturing output fell to one-third of pre-war levels.[23] Manipulation of wage controls and different pricing systems for producers and consumers fueled discontent as foreign debt grew and the population experienced shortages.[5]

International events

On March 5, 1953, Josef Stalin died, ushering in a period of moderate liberalization during which most European communist parties developed a reform wing. In Hungary, the reformist Imre Nagy replaced Mátyás Rákosi, "Stalin's Best Hungarian Disciple," as prime minister. However, Rákosi remained general secretary of the party, and was able to undermine most of Nagy's reforms. By April 1955, he had Nagy discredited and removed from office[24] After Khrushchev's “On the Personality Cult and its Consequences” secret speech at the Twentieth Party Congress of February 1956, which denounced Stalin and his protégés,[25] Rákosi was deposed as general secretary of the party and replaced by Ernő Gerő on July 18, 1956.[12]

On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact, binding Hungary to the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Among the principles of this alliance were "respect for the independence and sovereignty of states" and "noninterference in their internal affairs".[26]

In 1955 the Austrian State Treaty and ensuing declaration of neutrality established Austria as a demilitarized and neutral country. This raised Hungarian hopes of also becoming neutral and in 1955 Nagy had considered "...the possibility of Hungary adopting a neutral status on the Austrian pattern".[27] Austrian neutrality altered the calculus of cold war military planning as it geographically split the NATO Alliance from Geneva to Vienna, thus increasing Hungary's strategic importance to the Warsaw Pact.

In June 1956, a violent uprising by Polish workers in Poznan was put down by the government, with scores of protesters killed and wounded. Responding to popular demand, in October 1956 the government appointed the recently rehabilitated reformist communist Władysław Gomułka as first secretary of the Polish Communist Party, with a mandate to negotiate trade concessions and troop reductions with the Soviet government. After a few tense days of negotiations, on October 19 the Soviets finally gave in to Gomulka's reformist demands.[28] News of the concessions won by the Poles emboldened many Hungarians to hope for similar concessions for Hungary and these sentiments contributed significantly to the highly-charged political climate that prevailed in Hungary in the second half of October 1956.

Social unrest builds

Rákosi's resignation in July of 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 Petõfi circles, became very popular and attracted thousands of participants.[29] On October 6, 1956, László Rajk, who had been executed by the Rákosi government, was reburied in a moving ceremony which strengthened the party opposition,[30] and later that month, the reformer Imre Nagy was rehabilitated to full membership in the Hungarian Communist Party.

On October 16, 1956, university students in Szeged snubbed 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.[7] Within days, the student bodies of Pécs, Miskolc, and Sopron followed suit. On October 22, students of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics compiled a list of sixteen points containing several national policy demands.[31] After the students heard that the Hungarian Writers’ Union planned to express solidarity with Poland on the following day by laying a wreath at the statue of Polish-born Józef Bem, a hero of Hungary's War of Independence (1848–1849), the students decided to organize a parallel demonstration of sympathy.


First shots

Flag of Hungary, with the communist coat of arms cut out. The flag with a hole became the symbol of the revolution. (Photographed at the "Corvin köz")

On the afternoon of October 23, 1956, approximately 20,000 protesters convened next to the Bem statue. Péter Veres, President of the Writers’ Union, read a manifesto to the crowd,[32] the students read their proclamation, and the crowd then chanted the censored "National Song" (Nemzeti dal), the refrain of which states: "We vow, we vow, we will no longer remain slaves." Someone in the crowd cut out the communist coat of arms from the Hungarian Flag, leaving a distinctive hole and others quickly followed suit.[33] Afterwards, most of the crowd crossed the Danube to join demonstrators outside the Parliament Building. By 6 P.M., the multitude had swollen to more than 200,000 people;[12] the demonstration was spirited, but peaceful.[12]

At 8 P.M., First Secretary Ernő Gerő broadcast a speech condemning the writers' and students' demands, and dismissing the demonstrators as a reactionary mob.[12] Angered by Gerõ's hard-line rejection, some demonstrators decided to carry out one of their demands—the removal of Stalin's 30 foot(10 meter)-high bronze statue that was erected in 1951 on the site of a church, which was demolished to make room for the Stalin monument.[34]

By 9:30 P.M. the statue was toppled and jubilant crowds celebrated by placing Hungarian flags in Stalin's boots, which was all that was left of the statue.[12]

At about the same time, a large crowd gathered at the Radio Budapest building, which was heavily guarded by the ÁVH. The flash point occurred as a delegation attempting to broadcast their demands was detained and the crowd grew increasingly unruly as rumors spread that the protestors had been shot. Tear gas was thrown from the upper windows and the ÁVH opened fire on the crowd, killing many.[12] The ÁVH tried to re-supply itself by hiding arms inside an ambulance, but the crowd detected the ruse and intercepted it. Hungarian soldiers sent to relieve the ÁVH hesitated and then tearing the red stars from their caps, sided with the crowd.[33][12] Provoked by the ÁVH attack, protesters reacted violently. Police cars were set ablaze, guns were seized from military depots and distributed to the masses and symbols of the communist regime were vandalized.[12]

Fighting spreads, government falls

During the night of October 23, Hungarian Communist Party Secretary Ernő Gerő requested Soviet military intervention "to suppress a demonstration that was reaching an ever greater and unprecedented scale."[28] The Soviet leadership had formulated contingency plans for intervention in Hungary several months before.[35] By 2 A.M. on October 24, under orders of Georgy Zhukov, the Soviet defense minister, Soviet tanks entered Budapest.[12]

On October 24, Soviet tanks were stationed outside the Parliament building and Soviet soldiers guarded key bridges and crossroads. Armed revolutionaries quickly set up barricades to defend Budapest, and were reported to have already captured some Soviet tanks by mid-morning.[33] That day, Imre Nagy replaced András Hegedűs as prime minister.[36] On the radio, Nagy called for an end to violence and promised to initiate political reforms which had been shelved three years earlier. The population continued to arm itself as sporadic violence erupted. Armed protesters seized the radio building. At the offices of the communist newspaper Szabad Nép unarmed demonstrators were fired upon by ÁVH guards who were then driven out as armed demonstrators arrived.[12] At this point, the revolutionaries' wrath focused on the ÁVH;[12] Soviet military units were not yet fully engaged, and there were many reports of some Soviet troops showing open sympathy for the demonstrators.[37]

On October 25, a mass of protesters gathered in front of the Parliament Building. ÁVH units began shooting into the crowd from the rooftops of neighboring buildings.[38] Some Soviet soldiers returned fire on the ÁVH, mistakenly believing that they were the targets of the shooting.[33][12] Supplied by arms taken from the ÁVH or given by Hungarian soldiers who joined the uprising, some in the crowd started shooting back.[33][38]

The Parliament massacre forced the collapse of the government.[12] The communist first secretary, Ernő Gerő, and former prime minister, András Hegedűs, fled to the Soviet Union; Imre Nagy became prime minister and János Kádár first secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party.[39] Revolutionaries began an aggressive offensive against Soviet troops and the remnants of the ÁVH.

As the Hungarian resistance fought Soviet tanks using Molotov cocktails in the narrow streets of Budapest, revolutionary councils arose nationwide, assumed local governmental authority, and called for general strikes. Public communist symbols such as red stars and Soviet war memorials were removed, and communist books were burned. Spontaneous revolutionary militias arose, such as the 400-man group loosely led by József Dudás, which attacked or murdered Soviet sympathizers and ÁVH members.[40] Soviet units fought primarily in Budapest; elsewhere the countryside was largely quiet. Soviet commanders often negotiated local cease-fires with the revolutionaries.[36] In some regions, Soviet forces managed to quell revolutionary activity. In Budapest, the Soviets were eventually fought to a stand-still and hostilities began to wane. Hungarian general Béla Király, freed from a life sentence for political offenses 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.[41] A ceasefire was arranged on October 28, and by October 30 most Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest to garrisons in the Hungarian countryside.[12]


Fighting had virtually ceased between October 28 and November 4.

The New Hungarian National Government

Statue of Imre Nagy, facing the Parliament.

The rapid spread of the uprising in the streets of Budapest and the abrupt fall of the Gerő-Hegedűs government left the new national leadership surprised, and at first disorganized. Nagy, a loyal party reformer described as possessing "only modest political skills,"[42] initially appealed to the public for calm and a return to the old order. Yet 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".[43] Calling the ongoing insurgency "a broad democratic mass movement" in a radio address on October 27, Nagy formed a government which included some non-communist ministers. This new national government abolished both the ÁVH and the one-party system.[12][44]

Because it held office 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.[45] Many political prisoners were released, most notably József Cardinal Mindszenty. Political parties which were previously banned, such as the Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party and the National Peasants' Party, reappeared to join the coalition.[12]

Local revolutionary councils formed throughout Hungary, generally without involvement from the preoccupied national government in Budapest, and assumed various responsibilities of local government from the defunct communist party.[46] By October 30, these councils had been officially sanctioned by the Hungarian Workers' (Communist) Party, and the Nagy government asked for their support as "autonomous, democratic local organs formed during the Revolution."[46] 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 whilst protecting workers' interests; thus establishing a socialist economy free of rigid party control.[12] Local control by the councils was not always bloodless; in Debrecen, Gyor, 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.[46]

Soviet perspective

On October 24, the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union discussed the political upheavals in Poland and Hungary. A delegation in Budapest reported that the situation was not as dire as had been portrayed. Nikita Khrushchev stated that he believed that Party Secretary Ernő Gerő's request for intervention on October 23 indicated that the Hungarian Party still held the confidence of the Hungarian public. In addition, he saw the protests not as an ideological struggle, but as popular discontent over unresolved basic economic and social issues.[28]

After some debate,[47] the Presidium at first decided not to remove the new Hungarian government, on October 30, adopting a “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 was issued the next day. This document proclaimed: "The Soviet Government is prepared to enter into the appropriate negotiations with the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and other members of the Warsaw Treaty on the question of the presence of Soviet troops on the territory of Hungary."[48]

Although it was widely believed that Hungary's declaration to exit the Warsaw Pact caused the Soviet intervention, minutes of the October 31 meeting of the Presidium record that the decision to intervene militarily was taken one day before Hungary declared its neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.[49] A hard-line faction led by Vyacheslav Molotov was pushing for intervention, but Khrushchev and Marshal Zhukov were initially opposed. However, several key events alarmed the Presidium and cemented the interventionists' position:

  • Simultaneous movements towards multiparty parliamentary democracy, and a democratic national council of workers, which could "lead towards a capitalist state." Both movements challenged the pre-eminence of the Soviet Communist Party in Eastern Europe and perhaps Soviet hegemony itself. For the majority of the Presidium, the workers' direct control over their councils without Communist Party leadership was incompatible with their idea of socialism. At the time, these councils were, in the words of Hannah Arendt, "the only free and acting soviets (councils) in existence anywhere in the world."[50][51]
  • The Presidium was concerned lest the West might perceive Soviet weakness if it did not deal firmly with Hungary. Khrushchev reportedly remarked "If we depart from Hungary, it will give a great boost to the Americans, English, and French—the imperialists. … To Egypt they will then add Hungary."[49]
  • Khrushchev stated that many in the communist party would not understand a failure to respond with force in Hungary. De-Stalinization had alienated the more conservative elements of the party, who were alarmed at threats to Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. On June 17, 1953, workers in East Berlin had staged an uprising, demanding the resignation of the government of the German Democratic Republic. This was quickly and violently put down with the help of the Soviet military, with 84 killed and wounded and seven hundred arrested.[52] In June 1956, in Poznań, Poland, an anti-government workers' revolt had been suppressed by the Polish security forces with 74 deaths. Additionally, by late October, unrest was noticed in some regional areas of the Soviet Union: while this unrest was minor, it was intolerable.
  • Hungarian neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact represented a breach in the Soviet defensive buffer zone of satellite nations. Soviet fear of invasion from the West made a defensive buffer of allied states in Eastern Europe an essential security objective.

The Presidium decided to break the de facto ceasefire and crush the Hungarian revolution.[53] The plan was to declare a "provisional revolutionary government" under János Kádár, who would appeal for Soviet assistance to restore order. According to witnesses, Kádár was in Moscow in early November.[54] and he was in contact with the Soviet embassy while still a member of the Nagy government.[12] Delegations were sent to other communist governments in Eastern Europe and China, and to Tito in Yugoslavia, seeking to avoid a regional conflict, and propaganda messages prepared for broadcast as soon as the second Soviet intervention had begun. To disguise these intentions, Soviet diplomats were to engage the Nagy government in talks discussing the withdrawal of Soviet forces.[49]

International reaction

Although the John Foster Dulles, the United States secretary of state, recommended on October 24 that the United Nations Security Council convene to discuss the situation in Hungary, little immediate action was taken to introduce a resolution. Responding to the plea by Nagy at the time of the second massive Soviet intervention on November 4, the Security Council resolution critical of Soviet actions was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The General Assembly, by a vote of 50 in favor, 8 against and 15 abstentions, called on the Soviet Union to end its Hungarian intervention, but the newly constituted Kádár government rejected UN observers.[55]

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aware of a detailed study of Hungarian resistance which recommended against U.S. military intervention,[56] and of earlier policy discussions within the National Security Council which focused upon encouraging discontent in Soviet satellite nations only by economic policies and political rhetoric.[57] In a 1998 interview, Hungarian ambassador Géza Jeszenszky was critical of Western inaction in 1956, citing the influence of the United Nations at that time and giving the example of UN intervention in Korea from 1950-1953.[58]

During the uprising, the Radio Free Europe (RFE) Hungarian-language programs broadcast news of the political and military situation, as well as appealing to Hungarians to fight the Soviet forces, including tactical advice on resistance methods. After the Soviet suppression of the revolution, RFE was criticized for having misled the Hungarian people that NATO or United Nations would intervene if the citizens continued to resist.[59]

Soviet intervention of November 4

On November 1, Imre Nagy received reports that Soviet forces had entered Hungary from the east and were moving towards Budapest.[60] Nagy sought and received assurances from Soviet ambassador Yuri Andropov that the Soviet Union would not invade, although Andropov knew otherwise. 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, the UN secretary-general, to defend Hungary's neutrality.[61] Ambassador Andropov was asked to inform his government that Hungary would begin negotiations on the removal of Soviet forces immediately.[62][63]

On November 3, a Hungarian delegation led by the minister of defense, 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 (NKVD) ordered the arrest of the Hungarian delegation,[12] and the next day, the Soviet army again attacked Budapest.[12]

This second Soviet intervention, codenamed "Operation Whirlwind," was launched by Marshal Ivan Konev.[64] The five Soviet divisions stationed in Hungary before October 23 were augmented to a total strength of 17 divisions.[65] The new Soviet troops, in order to ensure loyalty, had been transported from distant Soviet Central Asia, and many did not speak European languages. Many believed they were being sent to Berlin to fight German fascists.[66] By 9:30 P.M. on November 3, the Soviet Army had completely encircled Budapest.[67]

At 3 A.M. on November 4, 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. Before a single shot was fired, the Soviets had effectively split the city in half, controlled all bridgeheads, and were shielded to the rear by the wide Danube River. Armored units crossed into Buda and at 4:25 A.M. fired the first shots at the army barracks on Budaõrsi Road. Soon after, Soviet artillery and tank fire was heard in all districts of Budapest.[67] Operation Whirlwind combined air strikes, artillery, and the coordinated tank-infantry action of 17 divisions.[65] The Hungarian Army put up sporadic and uncoordinated resistance. 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 United Nations reported that there were no recorded incidents of Hungarian Army units fighting on the side of the Soviets.[67]

At 5:20 A.M. on November 4, Nagy broadcast his final plea to the nation and the world, announcing that Soviet forces were attacking Budapest and that the government remained at its post.[68] The broadcaster, Radio Free Kossuth, stopped broadcasting at 8:07 A.M.[68] An emergency cabinet meeting was held in the Parliament building, 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 post.[69] Awaiting arrest, he wrote a stirring proclamation to the nation and the world.

At 6:00 A.M. on November 4,[68] 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."[70] 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 materialize; the fighting did not take on the character of a 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."[70]

By 8:00 A.M. organized defense of the city evaporated after the radio station was seized, and many defenders fell back to fortified positions.[71] Hungarian civilians bore the brunt of the fighting, and it was often impossible for Soviet troops to differentiate military from civilian targets.[71] For this reason, Soviet tanks often crept along main roads firing indiscriminately into buildings.[71] Hungarian resistance was strongest in the industrial areas of Budapest, which were heavily targeted by Soviet artillery and air strikes.[72] The last pocket of resistance called for ceasefire on November 10. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops had been killed and thousands more were wounded.[73][74]



János Kádár, Hungarian head of state from 1956 to 1988

Between November 10 and December 19, workers' councils negotiated directly with the occupying Soviets. While they achieved some prisoner releases, they did not achieve a Soviet withdrawal. Thousands of Hungarians were arrested, imprisoned and deported to the Soviet Union, many without evidence.[75] Approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled Hungary,[76] some 26,000 were put on trial by the Kádár government, and of those 13,000 were imprisoned.[77] Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky estimated 350 were executed.[58] Sporadic armed resistance and strikes by workers' councils continued until mid-1957, causing substantial economic disruption.

With most of Budapest under Soviet control by November 8, Kádár became prime minister of the "Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government" and general secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. Few Hungarians rejoined the reorganized Party, its leadership having been purged under the supervision of the Soviet Presidium, led by Georgy Malenkov and Mikhail Suslov.[78] Although Party membership declined from 800,000 before the uprising to 100,000 by December 1956, Kádár steadily increased his control over Hungary and neutralized dissenters. The new government attempted to enlist support by espousing popular principles of Hungarian self-determination voiced during the uprising, but Soviet troops remained.[79] 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.[80]

The Red Cross and the Austrian Army established refugee camps in Traiskirchen and Graz.[76] 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 November 22 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."[81] 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.[82]

By 1963 most political prisoners from the 1956 Hungarian revolution had been released.[83] 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. Due to poor health and a request from the Vatican, he finally left the embassy for Austria in September 1971.[84]


Despite Cold War rhetoric by the West, espousing a rollback of the domination of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, and Soviet promises of the imminent triumph of socialism, national leaders of this period as well as later historians saw the failure of the uprising in Hungary as evidence that the Cold War in Europe had become a stalemate.[85]

Heinrich von Brentano, 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." Paul-Henri Spaak, the secretary-general of NATO, called the Hungarian revolt "the collective suicide of a whole people."[86]

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."[87] Twelve years later, when Soviet-led forces ended a similar movement toward liberalization in Czechoslovakia, First Secretary Alexander Dubček, recalling the Hungarian experience, asked his citizens not to resist the occupation.

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.[88] 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 two hundred other Hungarians.[89]

The governments of Hungary and Romania refused the UN officials of the committee entry, and the government of the Soviet Union did not respond to requests for information.[89] The 268-page Committee Report, Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary, 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.[12] A General Assembly resolution was approved, deploring the repression of the Hungarian people and the Soviet occupation, but no other action was taken.[90]

At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, the Soviet handling of the Hungarian uprising led to a boycott by Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland.[91] At the Olympic Village, the Hungarian delegation tore down the Communist Hungarian flag and raised the flag of Free Hungary in its place. The delegation also insisted that the banned "God, Bless the Hungarians" (Himnusz) be used as the national anthem during medal ceremonies. A confrontation between Soviet and Hungarian teams occurred in the semi-final match of the water polo tournament. The match was extremely violent, and was halted in the final minute to quell fighting amongst spectators. This match, now known as the "blood in the water match," became the subject of a 2005 documentary film called Freedom's Fury.[92] The Hungarian team won 4-0 and later won the gold medal. Several members of the Hungarian Olympic delegation defected after the games.

The events in Hungary produced ideological fractures within the communist parties of Western Europe. Within the Italian Communist Party (PCI) a split ensued: most ordinary members and the party leadership, including Palmiro Togliatti and Giorgio Napolitano, regarded the Hungarian insurgents as counter-revolutionaries, as reported in l'Unità, the official PCI newspaper.[93] However Giuseppe Di Vittorio, chief of the communist trade union (CGIL), repudiated the leadership position, as did the prominent party member Antonio Giolitti and many influential communist intellectuals, who later were expelled or left the party. Pietro Nenni, the national secretary 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, and that at the time he believed in Party unity and the international leadership of Soviet communism.[94]

Within the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), dissent that began with the repudiation of Stalinism by John Saville and E.P. Thompson, influential historians and members of the Communist Party Historians Group, culminated in a loss of thousands of party members as events unfolded in Hungary. Peter Fryer, correspondent for the CPGB newspaper The Daily Worker, reported accurately on the violent suppression of the uprising, but his dispatches were heavily censored;[66] Fryer resigned from the paper upon his return, and was later expelled from the communist party.

In France, moderate communists, such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie resigned, questioning the policy of supporting Soviet actions by the French Communist Party. The French philosopher and writer Albert Camus wrote an open letter, The Blood of the Hungarians, criticizing the West's lack of action. Even Jean Paul Sartre, still a determined communist, criticized the Soviets in his article Le Fantôme de Staline, in Situations VII.[95]


1956 Revolution Flag flying in front of the Hungarian parliament building

In December 1991, the preamble of the treaties with the dismembered Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev, and Russia, represented by Boris Yeltsin, apologized officially for the 1956 Soviet actions in Hungary. This apology was repeated by Yeltsin in 1992 during a speech to the Hungarian parliament.[58]

On February 13, 2006, the U.S. State Department commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. secretary of state, 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.[96] President George W. Bush also visited Hungary on June 22, 2006, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary.[97]

After the fall of the communist regime, the Republic of Hungary was declared on October 23, 1989, the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution, and Imre Nagy's body was reburied with full honors.[82] October 23 is a Hungarian national holiday.


  1. Györkei, Jenõ and Kirov, Alexandr and Miklos Horvath (1999). Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956. New York: Central European University Press, 350. ISBN 963911636X. 
  2. UN General Assembly. Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957).PDF Chapter V, Footnote 8 (p. 68). Retrieved May 24, 2007.
  3. Alternate references are "Hungarian Revolt" and "Hungarian Uprising"; "Revolution" is used as it conforms to both English (see U.S. Department of State background on Hungary) and Hungarian (forradalom) conventions. There is a distinction between the "complete overthrow" of a revolution and an uprising or revolt that may or may not be successful (Oxford English Dictionary). The 1956 Hungarian event, although short-lived, is a true "revolution" in that the sitting government was indeed deposed. Unlike coup d'état or putsch which imply action of a few, the 1956 revolution was effected by the masses.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "By 1948, leaders of the non-Communist parties had been silenced, had fled abroad or had been arrested, and, in 1949, Hungary officially became a People’s Democracy. Real power was in the hands of Mátyás Rákosi, a Communist trained in Moscow. Under his régime, Hungary was modeled more and more closely on the Soviet pattern. Free speech and individual liberty ceased to exist. Arbitrary imprisonment became common and purges were undertaken, both within and outside the ranks of the Party. In June 1949, the foreign minister, László Rajk, was arrested; he was charged with attempting to overthrow the democratic order and hanged. Many other people were the victims of similar action.(1) This was made easier by the apparatus of the State security police or ÁVH, using methods of terror in the hands of the régime, which became identified with Rákosi’s régime in the minds of the people." (UN General Assembly. Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957)PDF, chap. 2, para. 47 (p. 18)). Retrieved May 24, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Library of Congress: Country Studies: Hungary, Chapter 3 Economic Policy and Performance, 1945-85. Retrieved August 27, 2006.
  6. UN General Assembly. Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957)PDF, chap. 2. Retrieved May 24, 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Crampton, R. J. (2003). Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century–and After. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415164222. p. 295.
  8. Coutsoukis, Photius. Hungary Soviet Southern Forces in Hungary. Retrieved May 24, 2007.
  9. In 1949 the ruling communist parties of the founding states of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance were also linked internationally through the Cominform (Library of Congress. Country Studies Appendix B—Germany (East). Retrieved May 24, 2007.)
  10. Norton, Donald H. (1990). Essentials of European History: 1935 to the Present. Piscataway, NJ: Research & Educational Association. ISBN 087891711X. p. 47.
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  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 12.16 12.17 12.18 12.19 12.20 12.21 UN General Assembly. Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary (1957)PDF, chap. 2. Retrieved May 24, 2007.
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  14. 14.0 14.1 Gati, Charles (2006). Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804756066.  (page 49). Gati describes "the most gruesome forms of psychological and physical torture...The reign of terror (by the Rákosi government) turned out to be harsher and more extensive than it was in any of the other Soviet satellites in Central and Eastern Europe." He further references a report prepared after the collapse of communism, the Fact Finding Commission Torvenytelen szocializmus (Lawless Socialism): "Between 1950 and early 1953, the courts dealt with 650,000 cases (of political crimes), of whom 387,000 or 4 percent of the population were found guilty (Budapest: Zrinyi Kiado/Uj Magyarorszag, 1991. p. 154).
  15. In February 1950, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party defined the supplantation of bourgeois leaders as its main goal. József Darvas, the minister of education and religion from February 1950, wrote about secondary educational reforms in the pedagogical magazine Köznevelés (September 17, 1950): "The conversion of different grammar schools to industrial technical institutes, agricultural technical institutes, economical vocational high schools and training-colleges for school teachers and kindergarten instructors tends to the success of the five year plan by supplying many of the needed technicians." On October 30, 1950, new guidelines were set for the colleges and universities: Marxism-Leninism should be the main subject in all classes, and studying the Russian language became mandatory. By the end of 1951, 107 new course books were issued, 61 of which were translations of texts used in Soviet universities. The number of students had to be increased by an additional 30,000 over the next five years. Kardos, József. (2003). “Monograph.” Iskolakultúra 6-7 (June-July 2003): 73-80. Retrieved May 24, 2007.
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  42. Gati 2006, 52.
  43. Gati 2006, 173.
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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. Harcourt, 1951. ISBN 0156701537
  • Békés, Csaba, Malcolm Byrne, and Janos Rainer (eds.) The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents (National Security Archive Cold War Readers). Central European University Press, 2003. ISBN 9639241660
  • Bibó, István. Democracy, Revolution, Self-Determination. Columbia University Press, 1991. ISBN 088033214X
  • Gadney, Reg. Cry Hungary: Uprising 1956. Macmillan, 1986. ISBN 0689118384
  • Gati, Charles. Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (Cold War International History Project Series). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0804756066
  • Györkei, Jenõ, Alexandr Kirov, and Miklos Horvath. Soviet Military Intervention in Hungary, 1956. Central European University Press, 1999. ISBN 963911636X
  • Kertesz, Stephen D. Diplomacy in a Whirlpool: Hungary between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1953. ISBN 0837175402
  • Michener, James A. The Bridge at Andau. Fawcett, 1985. ISBN 0449210502
  • Morri, William I., and Richard Lettis (eds.). The Hungarian Revolt: October 23 - November 4, 1956. Simon Publications, 2001. ISBN 1931313792
  • Napolitano, Giorgio. Dal Pci al socialismo europeo. Un'autobiografia politica(From the Communist Party to European Socialism. A political autobiography) Laterza, 20015. ISBN 8842077151
  • Sebestyen, Victor. Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Pantheon, 2006. ISBN 037542458X
  • Sugar, Peter F., Peter Hanak, and Tibor Frank (eds.) A History of Hungary: From Liberation to Revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994. ISBN 025320867X
  • 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 Retrieved September 30, 2014.
  • Zinner, Paul E. Revolution in Hungary. Books for Libraries Press, 1962. ISBN 0836968174

External links

All links retrieved January 19, 2018.

  • Institute of Revolutionary History, Hungary – A Hungarian language site providing historical photos and documents, books and reviews, and links to English language sites.
  • The Hungarian Revolt, October 23 - November 4, 1956 – A Scribner research anthology of written sources on the Hungarian Revolt, edited by Richard Lettis and William I. Morris. Documents include radio broadcasts, newspaper and magazine articles, and portions of books on the revolt.
  • Hungary '56 Andy Anderson's pamphlet, written in 1964 and originally published by Solidarity (UK), about events of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, focusing on Hungarian demands for economic and political self-management (AK Press 2002, ISBN 0934868018).
  • Hungary: workers' councils against Russian tanks by Mike Haynes, International Socialism (2006).
  • "On this day 4 November, 1956: Soviet troops overrun Hungary" – British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reports on the first day of the second Soviet intervention and the fall of the Nagy government.
  • 1956 - The Hungarian Revolution – Published in the 1980s as the first in a series of Council Communist pamphlets, emphasizing the events of 1956 as a Hungarian workers' uprising.
  • The 1956 Portal – A resource for Hungarian-American organizations to highlight and promote their 1956 Hungarian Revolution commemoration activities, including 1956 photos, videos, resources, and events across the U.S.


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