|Andrew P. Fodor
Pages from an Old Diary
|Young Heroes of Budapest
Our memories are fading like pages from an old diary. Our memories are fading, as fewer and fewer of us are still here to talk about them.
I remember what Marcel Proust wrote in his book, Remembrance of Things Past:
when from a long distant past nothing subsists
the smell and taste of things remain posed a long time
and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection
I cannot remember anymore the cries of my wounded and fallen cadets and my brothers-in-arms, but I can still remember the smell of their blood.
I can still remember the smell and taste of flowers in Budapest Park where I first embraced a lovely Hungarian girl, whom I deeply loved.
I can still remember the smell of the river Danube on that dark, depressing, sad, autumn morning of November 4, 1956, when the Russians returned with overwhelming force.
I can still remember the wonderful smell of cookies which my Grandmother used to make.
But, most of all, I still remember the many smells and tastes of my much loved city of Budapest, on that heroic day of October 23, 1956, when the revolution broke out.
In years past, during the month of October, as the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution approached, regardless of where I was or what I was doing, I would open my diary, which consisted of only a few pages, to relive those turbulent, unforgettable days.
With time, the pages of my diary became more and more difficult to read as they yellowed, became brittle and broke apart. For some time, I have been planning to reconstruct some of it from memory. The 40th anniversary gave me this opportunity. And now, as the 50th anniversary approaches, I have added more to those pages, starting with October 29th and ending with November 7th, as these were the dates recorded in my diary.
On these following pages, I pay homage to those cadets, to those fellow soldiers, to those brothers-in-arms, who were wounded or lost their lives during the Revolution. I want to praise those who were executed or imprisoned during those brutal years of oppression, and those who in spite of their indoctrination and orders remained loyal to their nation. I want to commend those who had to leave the country or were tossed into poverty and joblessness because they refused to take the loyalty oath to the Communist government reinstated by the Soviets after they crushed the Revolution.
I remember, the news spread like wildfire: The Russians are leaving! The Russians are leaving! There was joy everywhere.
The cadets of the Artillery and Technical Artillery Officer School were marching on the streets, singing the Hungarian National Anthem and the songs from the 1848 Revolution. Our battalion flag, the Hungarian flags and the revolutionary flags with the hole in the middle were crackling in the fresh, gusty wind.
I saw on the sidewalk some older gentlemen who took their hats off, ladies who fell on their knees, and young girls who were bringing us flowers. Some people were crying, older women were praying as they saw us marching past. They were shouting, Long Live the People's Army and The Army is with Us!
When we passed the Kilian Barracks and the building of Corvin Passage where some of the bloodiest fights had taken place, soldiers and resistance fighters were cheering and applauding us from the windows.
We stopped at Boráros Square because our orders were to secure the place and direct the withdrawal of Soviet troops from some strategic points in the city. Our parliamentarians approached the Soviet tanks at Petõfi Bridge. The tanks started to withdraw slowly.
It was raining very hard and it was cold. Lots of civilian fighters were gathering around us and brought us food. Then, we started to march again. I felt reborn, because we were the new army, we were the revolutionary army; we were treated as heroes of the Revolution.
I felt immense pride, tears were rolling down my cheeks and I did not even want to hide my emotions.
At dawn the alarm was sounded and we were informed that the Russians were returning with overwhelming force. Most of us were eager and ready to fight, except some of our commanders.
On the school grounds was the headquarters of the 27th Division of the Army under the command of a lieutenant colonel. By order of the Supreme Revolutionary Council the cadets came under his command as well.
At 3:30 am the new commander received orders to organize the defense of this southern section of Budapest, against the Russians who were approaching with overwhelming force. Sixteen Soviet divisions, including armored and mechanized infantry, began their concentrated attack on Budapest.
Our defense perimeter was Üllõi Avenue, all the way to the intersection with Kõbányai Avenue. The school's Revolutionary Council ordered that artillery pieces be set up ready to fire. Our commander insisted, however, that it was impossible to defend the school against the overwhelming power of the Soviets. But the head of the Revolutionary Council insisted that orders must be carried out. The commander, therefore, sounded the alarm and ordered the cadets into firing positions of readiness, but decided not to resist the Russians with full force.
At 5:20 am we heard an emergency message on Radio Budapest: This is Premiere Imre Nagy speaking. Today at daybreak Soviet troops attacked our capital with the obvious intent of overthrowing the legal democratic Hungarian government. Our troops are in combat; the government is at its post. I notify the people of our country and the entire world of this fact.
When the first Soviet tank column appeared on Üllõi Avenue at the defense perimeter of the school, they swept away some of the anti-tank weapons which were placed there by us. Suddenly, two Russian soldiers and an officer approached the building. They demanded to talk to the school commander at once.
When the school commander appeared, they escorted him to People's Park (Népliget) where the Russians had established division headquarters. There the Soviet Colonel Bachtin presented our commander with an ultimatum. The cadets had to surrender all their weapons within one hour. Upon any sign of resistance, including the refusal to surrender weapons, the Russians threatened to open fire from People's Park with all their tanks and artillery pieces and promised to pulverize the building with the students in it.
When the cadets were told of the Soviet demands, most expressed their wish to die rather than put their weapons down. Many vowed to resist to their last breath. Some officers tried to talk the cadets out of committing suicide. Some of the cadets refused to heed the advice and were shouting, This is treason!
In the confusion, some armed cadets (among them my friend István and I) escaped through the back exit. These cadets either tried to go home, or continued fighting in the city. Those who remained were finally convinced by some of their officers that resistance was futile. They collected their weapons and surrendered to the Soviets. Some of them were crying out of frustration, and many were cursing their Soviet captors.
István and I ran into the basement of a crumbling old house. The cavern looked a total inferno. A couple of broken beds, weapons everywhere, most of them destroyed by the explosions.
Body parts were all over. There were only the gravely injured and dead there. Some were staggering wounded, with their flesh hanging from their mangled bodies. The smell was unbearable; blood and urine were everywhere and everything was thick with masonry and stone dust. There was a radio playing martial music with calls for the fighters to surrender.
We tried to lay the gravely injured on the broken iron beds. I tried to use all I remembered from my army first aid course as I tried to apply a dressing made out of a bed sheet to a gravely wounded freedom fighter lying in front of me.
István's hands stopped me. I looked up. What else do you want me to do? I was shouting at him. I really started to get angry. Can't you see, he is dead, he is dead, he said forcefully but gently.
I looked at the body. I did not want to believe it, but he really was dead. The youngster could not have been more than sixteen. I felt disgusted and I felt really tired and sad. I did not want to dress anybody's wounds anymore.
When it seemed to be quiet again outside, István and I left the basement. As I took a last long look at the iron bed, his face seemed even younger than before.
These kids of Budapest, these kids of Budapest, these are the real heroes of our time, I mumbled to myself as I crawled out to the street.
Once in a while, the mortar shells were still coming in as István and I found refuge in a small factory.
The workers who were there were very helpful in feeding us, providing shelter, and as it came to be somewhat dangerous to walk around the Soviet-controlled streets in Hungarian military uniforms, they provided us with some workmen's overalls.
We must have spent around two or three days there. They asked us to bring some supplies to a small resistance group who were holed up in the basement of a building on the nearby square. To bring supplies to them was not difficult, since the walls of the basements of the surrounding buildings were broken through, so we never had to go up to the street. Then, there was a long, long silence; no gunfire was heard for hours. István and I hesitantly came up from the basement.
I peeked through the factory gate. I could hardly believe my eyes. Across the street, in the dark, shadowy doorway of a rundown building, a fellow cadet from my school was standing armed to the teeth, aiming his weapon at something. But at what? I peeked out again; there was a lone Soviet tank standing about two blocks away.
Again, I looked across the street, for I thought he was going to fire at the tank - and he did. The tank immediately replied. Across the street, the whole doorway collapsed and part of the building disappeared. István and I hurriedly retreated to the basement again.
I cannot forget this cadet's face. It was partly lit by a weak, autumn sun after a rainy day, on a sad, very sad November day in Budapest. His fight was futile and hopeless, yet he was a real patriot. When István and I finally left the factory, I crossed the street and wanted to put some flowers where he stood, but there were no flowers around. I reached into the pocket of my workman's overall, where I carried my military cap and slowly placed it on the shattered plaster pieces, which were all that remained of the doorway where he stood before.
As the years passed, his image faded in my memory, but once in a while his desperate act still haunts me. The last time I remembered him vividly was when I saw the picture of a lone Chinese student in Beijing trying to stop a long column of Chinese army tanks going to Tiananmen Square
Pages From an Old Diary excerpted from and added to The Legacy of the 1956 Revolution, Five Participants Forty Years Later. Hungarian Alumni Association (Bessenyei György Kör): New Brunswick, NJ 1996, ISBN 0-910539-07-3.
Andrew P. Fodor
At the time of the revolution, Fodor was a cadet at the Gábor Áron Artillery Technical Officer's School in Budapest. He fled the country in 1956. Upon immigrating to the United States, he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Polytechnic University in NY. He earned further degrees and certificates in mathematics and engineering from Columbia University and from the University of London, England. He spent the majority of his professional life based in London, researching and designing deep-sea, offshore, oil and gas production platforms and experimental undersea facilities in the North Sea and around the world. He currently resides with his wife Kathy in Stamford, CT, active in Hungarian-American affairs and spending his retirement years consulting, researching and lecturing in the history of science and technology and trying to fulfill his long-awaited literary ambitions.