I missed the shooting at the Radio because of homework I never handed in
My address in Budapest was Petõfi Sándor utca 6. In 1956 I was 14 years old and had just started high school at the Közgazdasági Technikum. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, I got home about 2 pm from school and intended to do my homework right away in order to have some free time in the evening. No one was home, but I found a note from my grandmother asking me to pick up something (I forgot what) at the grocery store. So I ran down 5 flights of steps and walked through the long, dark hallway to our building entrance and there, mesmerized, I stopped. I could not believe what I was seeing!
Our narrow street was jammed with people, from one side to the other. They were marching in rows as far as I could see. Demonstrating! They were carrying signs, "RUSSKIS GO HOME!-WE WANT IMRE NAGY!-WE DEMAND INDEPENDENCE!" I stood there, numb, with goosebumps spreading over my entire body. And then an extreme feeling of pride overtook me. My handful of people, my tiny nation, my little Hungary, has the guts to do this? To demand freedom? To stand up against a SUPERPOWER? Why, the city of Moscow has more people than all of Hungary, I thought.
Slowly I regained my senses and joined the demonstrators. We ended up on Petõfi Square in front of the beloved hero's statue. At least I was lucky to end up in front, because the adjoining two squares all the way to the Danube's shore were packed with people. All the trees were occupied; people even climbed up onto lampposts and the sills of lower windows. A well-known popular actor recited Petõfi's fiery poem "RISE UP, HUNGARIAN!" (Talpra, Magyar!) and the crowd went wild. Every Hungarian knows this poem by heart and at the end of each stanza they thundered the refrain: "For by the Hungarians' God above we swear, we truly swear, the tyrant's yoke no more to bear!" It was an incredible feeling to hear thousands of voices in unison repeat each refrain. There were no loudspeakers, no amplification apparatus, yet the farthest individual knew what was being said. If they couldn't hear it they could feel it.
Next a delegation of students from the Technical University read their "14 Points," which dealt with demands for independence and freedom for Hungary, followed by a couple of patriotic speeches. This is when someone cut the much hated communist emblem from our tricolor flag and held it high for all to see and shortly all the flags had the symbolic hole. Someone mentioned the ongoing struggle in Poland and it was decided to go to the General Bem statue (Gen. Bem was a Polish national who fought on the side of Hungary in 1848) on the other side of the Danube. We all marched to Buda to Bem Square. There it was a repeat of what happened on Petõfi Square, but after the students' 14 Points were read, it was decided to go next to the state controlled radio station and read them on the air for the whole nation to hear. By now it was getting dark, and I remembered that I had homework to do. So I went home without ever buying the groceries I was supposed to. Even my grandmother forgot about it.
Consumed by the event.
We were consumed by the events of the day. I didn't go to the radio because of homework. Little did I know, that there would be no school the next day nor the day after, or for me, never again in Hungary. Around 10 pm we thought we heard gunfire coming from the direction of the radio station. At 11 my mother came home, and since she was on a streetcar that traveled by the radio station, she confirmed that indeed there was gunfire there. (A friend whom I later met here in the US. was shot in the knee there). I missed going there because of homework I never handed in.
We woke early the next day and witnessed members of the ÁVO (secret police) in their trench coats, stopping people in front of our building. They were on both sides of the street in two groups frisking people and if they found weapons on someone, one of them would hold those persons at machine-gun point. This went on until they had about a half a dozen detainees and then marched them off down on Harris Street. A few minutes later we heard automatic weapons fire. Later I found out that freedom fighters killed the ÁVO policemen and freed their prisoners.
Sporadic fighting broke out all over Budapest, but there were certain areas of sustained battles that had the all-out earmarks of a war. I spent the next two weeks walking all over the city witnessing fighting, the aftermath, and the execution of much-hated ÁVO members. I even took pictures. One memorable example of bravery I encountered was the hand-to-hand combat between a young freedom fighter and a Russian soldier at the side exit of the Ady movie theater, until a Soviet tank went by and killed both of them. Overall the revolution seemed to succeed. We were elated. Hungary reveled in its freedom. But it didn't last long.
National anthem on the radio
On Nov. 4th. it was over. I woke up around 4 am. The radio was on and it kept playing the national anthem. And it kept playing it repeatedly, over and over. I sensed that something was wrong. It was the most sinking, depressing feeling I ever had. About 6am Prime Minister Imre Nagy made the announcement that the Russians were returning. It was over! This was the end. We were all alone. Abandoned by the rest of the world.
On Nov. 22, I left with my uncle and his wife. On Dec. 29th I arrived in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and on Jan. 7th, in Detroit, Michigan. Nearly 50 years have passed, but the proudest day of my life is still 10/23/56, when my Hungarian people dared to make an impossible stand, and the saddest is 11/4/56, when the free world abandoned them.
I would define the spirit of 1956 as Hungary being a David against an army of Goliaths. What I would like to see taught and passed down to future generations about the Revolution is that Hungary put a huge crack in the Soviet Bloc. 1956 was the beginning, and their handling the East German situation in 1989 was the end of Soviet domination. Without a question Hungary was responsible. Let the world give us the much-deserved recognition. The Revolution altered my life inasmuch as I left and lived the rest of my life as an American.
Born in 1942, he now lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He has been to Hungary twice since his escape He has been the owner of a floorcovering business for 30 years. He will take part in the commemoration for the 50th anniversary of the Revolution and is already raising funds for the documentary Torn from the Flag. He is currently president of the Hungarian Arts Club of Detroit and is also a member and past president, vice president and treasurer of the Hungarian American Cultural Center of Taylor, Michigan. For 20 years he either helped or produced the 56 and the 1848 commemorations.