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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 9 page 09


Hungary 1956

by Tom Krieser

In 1956, living in Budapest, I was caught up in the spirit of anti-Stalinism like so many of my compatriots. I was not the kind of hero that some others were. I was just a young Hungarian basically fed up with unfolding events and with the repressive regime under the communistic government, puppets to Moscow.

I had graduated from technical high school and started to work as an apprentice at age 18 in a machine shop, operating the lathe, drill, and boring mill, when all hell broke loose. This was in October of 1956. I had finished my shift at 2pm and was waiting for a friend close to the entrance of a pastry shop downtown. Budapest, incidentally, was formed from the union of two distinct cities, Buda and Pest, the two being separated by the Danube and linked by many bridges. Downtown is on the Pest side of the river near the Erzsebet Bridge.

There was something electrifying in the air, something unique for Hungary. The first I knew that this was to be a day of historical dimensions was when the quiet roar became a wave of euphoria as a growing crowd marched into view. Straining to hear and see what this was all about, I completely forgot my rendezvous with my friend and moved closer and closer to the edge of the street where, in the distance, I saw an approaching flag with the Soviet hammer and sickle torn out from its centre. As the crowd approached, I could hear the ever-increasing and rhythmical slogans being repeated: “Russians, go home,” and “Down with Stalin” and “Support our Polish brothers,” and many similar statements. The crowd, thousands and thousands strong, was being joined by ordinary people from the street and consisted mostly of students and workers like myself caught up in the excitement of the moment. I too was pulled into the tide of people. Led by the leaders up front, the crowd slowly but with great purpose was moving toward the Parliament.

By the time we arrived there, at perhaps seven or eight in the evening, the square in front of the Parliament was a mass of chanting patriots — I am guessing at least 250,000 of us. I learned that the students at the Technical University had planned the march, actually originally organized in support of our Polish neighbors to the north who were on strike against the regime in Poland — something unheard of in the Soviet-controlled Iron Curtain countries.

The students were prepared with a 16-point manifesto of demands, starting with the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Hungary, new leadership for the government, free elections, and freedom of speech, thought, the press, etc. That evening I was certainly caught up with events and was carried away with all the excitement that only a crowd can generate. Interestingly, there was no looting — something I see and read about far too often in similar circumstances in many parts of the world today. This crowd, and its leadership, was committed to a political agenda of freeing Hungarians from the Russian tyranny and had no interest in disrupting the life of people or damaging property, which was, after all, our own.