|Honring the 1956 Hungarian Revolution|
10/13/2016 - AHF Chairman addresses National Defense University on the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. "I remember that as I matured, the often articulated view that 'well, we couldn’t go to war over Hungary' somehow didn’t quite sound right to me." The presentation appears in full below.
On October 12, National Defense University hosted a conference titled "1956: The Freedom Fight that Changed the Cold War: Geopolitics and Defense Policy." Hungarian Ambassador Dr. Reka Szemerkenyi and Senior Vice President of the NDU Ambassador Donald Yamamota opened the seminar. The keynote speaker was Hungary's Defense Minister Dr. Istvan Simicsko. A number of scholars, authors and government officials served on the various panels, including James J. Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, Imre Toth, member of the Revolutionary Government of Hungary in 1956, Dr. Tamas Magyarics from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and General Peter B. Zwack from the NDU.Frank Koszorus, Jr., Chairman of the American Hungarian Federation’s Board of Directors, spoke on a panel titled “The Memory of 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight." He focused on the Eisenhower administration's “hands off policy” and how vigorous and imaginative diplomatic initiatives would have been far short of “starting World War III” yet would have gone beyond giving the appearance of acquiescence and possibly could have changed the course of the Cold War. Koszorus also touched upon an often forgotten consequence of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 – a more aggressive anti-Hungarian minority policy in Romania.
LOOKING BACK AT THE HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION OF 1956: PERCEPTIONS, IMPRESSIONS AND REALITY
"1956: The Freedom Fight that Changed the Cold War – Geopolitics and Defense Policy" -
The Memory of the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight
Memories of a Young Boy.
I remember the anguish of my parents as Soviet troops systematically and brutally crushed a small nation which dared to take up arms to realize its desperate but unequivocal and unquenchable desire to be free and independent.
I remember my father’s utter frustration with President Eisenhower’s reluctance to fully address this crisis, not knowing at the time that in the early 1950’s my father had been entrusted to establish an organization to conduct paramilitary activities favoring freedom within Hungary, an initiative that ended before 1956 and presaged the demise of “rollback” which, as it turned out, was more rhetoric than operational policy.
I remember the rallies, one in particular where movie star Ilona Massey addressed the gathering wearing a bright, shining blue dress with her blonde hair flowing in the wind and tears unstoppably streaking down her cheeks, as she pleaded that something, anything, must be done to stop the carnage.
I remember how with childish naivete my playmates and I developed future plans to parachute into Hungary to help ward off the enemy. Finally, I remember that as I matured, the often articulated view that “well, we couldn’t go to war over Hungary” somehow didn’t quite sound right to me.
Maturing and Learning.
As noted by Martin Ben Swartz, “[f]rom the start. . .the [Eisenhower] Administration took a defensive and defeatist attitude toward the Hungarian Revolution.” A few examples supporting this conclusion include the following:
As argued by Martin Ben Swartz, “[t]he [American] Legation in Budapest had already put its finger on the crux of the problem with the Administration’s policy toward Hungary. Why was the United States not making it known that the Warsaw Treaty was a sham, that the Soviet Union had no basis for keeping its troops in Hungary? [It was a sham because of the coercive nature of the military arrangement imposed by the Soviet Union.] Why was Eisenhower not insisting that those forces be withdrawn? The Legation saw little risk to the US in calling upon Khrushchev to withdraw from Hungary.”
Consequences. Vigorous and imaginative diplomatic initiatives instead of feckless policies would have been far short of "starting World War III." But they would have gone beyond giving the appearance of acquiescence and possibly could have changed the course of the Cold War.
The latter was attested to by Oleg Penkovskiy, a colonel with Soviet intelligence, when he later wrote the following in connection with the Hungarian events: “We in Moscow felt as if we were sitting on a powder keg. Everyone in the General Staff was against the ‘Khrushchev adventure.’ It was better to lose Hungary, as they said, than to lose everything. But what did the West do? Nothing. It was asleep.
This gave Khrushchev confidence, and after Hungary he began to scream: 'I was right!' After the Hungarian incident he dismissed many generals who had spoken out against him. If the West had slapped Khrushchev down hard then, he would not be in power today and all of Eastern Europe would be free.” Henry Kissinger succinctly concluded, the “Eisenhower Administration made no effort to raise the cost of Soviet intervention.”
And today? Quoting a Hungarian novelist,“the West deserted us once; will it welcome us now?’ as Hungary finally prepared to join NATO, Georgetown University Professor Derek Leebaert observes that “such memories would help shape the twenty-first century landscape.”
In addition to the suffering and oppression of Hungarians in Hungary proper in 1956 and the memory of that suffering noted above, the massive Soviet invasion and the brutal crushing of the unequivocal expression of Hungarians to be free also impacted the Hungarian communities in states neighboring Hungary – a development that is virtually forgotten today.
For instance, one consequence was the solidly Stalinist Romanian government's virtual liquidation of the Hungarian-language Bolyai University in Romania, which was implemented by the secretary of the Central Committee, Nicolae Ceausescu along with other anti-minority policies. Communal properties confiscated by the previous regime have yet to be fully restored to the Hungarian minority.
Today, Hungary is a committed NATO and strong U.S. ally and a multi-party democracy, albeit an imperfect and evolving one, as even mature democracies evolve. Having regained its freedom from Soviet domination a mere twenty-six years ago, the moral, spiritual and material damage caused by close to fifty years of Soviet imposed communism is still visible.
This reservoir of popular support was a precious commodity that gave U.S. foreign policy a competitive advantage in the region during the Cold War and the years that have followed. It is a commodity we need to nurture today in order for us to be able to effectively stand up against growing Russian aggression and to combat terrorism.
This instinctive popular support, however, has been at risk in Hungary in recent years, mainly due to the perception of a lack of evenhandedness in addressing the political landscape there. It is also due to a constant barrage of public, humiliating and patronizing criticism questioning Hungarians’ commitment to freedom and liberty.
1956 starkly refutes this misleading and skewed picture of Hungarians and amply justifies the restoration of good bi-lateral relations. Let’s not misjudge what is occurring on the ground as we misjudged the events in 1956 and paid a high price. We should remain constructively engaged in Hungary.
Finally, in order to strengthen and safeguard liberty throughout the region, today's generation -- the beneficiary of the restored freedoms following the demise of communism -- must be vigilant and guard against any curtailment of democracy and infringement of fundamental human rights and Western standards relating to minority rights. A free, independent, democratic and pro-Western society is the legacy of 1956 that should not be permitted to fade.
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution was the first tear in the Iron Curtain. Hungarians from all walks of life rose up against insurmountable odds to fight the brutal Soviet installed Hungarian communist government. Thousands died fighting, others tortured and executed, while 200,000 were forced to flee. 2006 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution.
10/24/2013 - AHF Executive Chairman delivers multimedia presentation entitled "Reflections on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution" for the Shepherd Center World Affairs Series coordinated by A. Ross Johnson, Wilson Center Senior Scholar, Hoover Institution Research Fellow, and former Director of Radio Free Europe. Bryan Dawson, whose mother was wounded in the Freedom Fight, discussed the roots of the conflict and Polish-Hungarian sympathies, Hungary's history and national character that contributed to the uprising, and the Revolution's impacts internationally. [read more]
New Video posted to the AHF 1956 Portal! "News Magazine of the Screen" presented "Flight from Hungary" in early 1957 featuring video taken after the brutal oviet re-occupation. "This is battered Budapest under the brutal Russian boot, Soviet tanks roam the streets under the ruins they laid as communist secret police hunt down heroic Freedom Fighters. 25,000 Hungarians are dead." A fascinating video, it also includes news about the Suez Crisis and more glimpes into life during this time. [See all Photos and Videos]
On October 22, 1956, a group of Hungarian students compiled a list of sixteen points containing key national policy demands. They were read at the foot of the General Bem statue, a Polish hero of the 1848 War of Liberation, in solidarity with the anti-communist demonstrations in Poznan, Poland. Following an anti-Soviet protest march through the Hungarian capital of Budapest, the students attempted to enter the city's main broadcasting station to read their demands on the air. The students were detained, and when people gathered outside the broadcasting station to call for their release, the state security police fired on the unarmed crowd, setting off the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Click the picture to read the 16 points!
AHF's work regarding the tragic events nearly 50 years ago, dates back to the early days of the revolution and thereafter assisting tens of thousands of refugees. In 1956 the American Hungarian Federation activated the second Hungarian Relief program for the refugees of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, providing $512,560.00. With the support of the American Hungarian Federation, over 65,000 refugees arrived in the USA. Get involved and help us continue our tradition of helping our community! Join Us!
States that have passed the 1956 Revolution 50th Anniversary Resolution:
4/28/2006 - Texas became the first state to adopt the AHF 1956 resolution (House Resolution 75). AHF extends sincere thanks to Texas Senator Janek and Representative Woolley for introducing the measure and to AHF's Texas Chapter President Chris Cutrone in Austin and Honorary Consul for Hungary Phillip Aronoff in Houston for their efforts in securing the introuduction of the resolution.
The resolution's title: "Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and recognizing the sacrifices of Hungarian Freedom Fighters, the contributions of Hungarian Americans, and the friendship between the people and governments of the United States and Hungary." Full text of the Texas resolution can be found on the Texas House Website.
The Houston Chronicle also published an Op-Ed calling attention to the resolution by Hungarian Honorary Consul Phillip Aronoff in Houston and Bryan Dawson-Szilagyi, AHF Chairman of the Executive Committee.
Ohio. Special thanks to the Hon. Péter Ujvági, Ohio State Representative (D) who successfully pushed the resolution (#212) through both state houses. [download the resolution] Ohio Governor Taft also issues a proclamation [download]
- AHF President Emeritus, Entrepreneur, Freedom Activist,
and 1959 US "Citizen of the Year," George K. Haydu, passed away
after long illness. The death of this great humanitarian and
leader is a major loss for the Hungarian-American community and to all
his many friends. Despite many death threats and being shot in the leg
during "Loyalty Day" parade in New York City, George was undeterred
in his efforts to bring freedom to Hungary and comfort to refugees.
5/19/2005 - Gergely "Bajusz" Pongratz, a leader and hero of Hungary's anti-communist revolution of 1956, has died at age 73.
Pongratz suffered a heart attack on Wednesday in the southern
Hungarian town of Kiskunmajsa where he lived, said Dezso Abraham, secretary
general of the World Council of Hungarian 56ers revolutionary veterans
group. During the revolution, Pongratz was commander of one of the key
resistance groups fighting the Soviet army. [read
12/10/2004 - JENO SZEREDAS, 90, Hungarian Freedom Fighter Federation Founder, AHF Member, and Noted Artist Dies...
Jeno Andras Szeredas, Hungarian political activist and Senator, 1956 Freedom Fighter, Founder of the Freedom Fighters Federation in the United States, poet and artist of rare talent died quietly in his sleep at his daughter's home in Connecticut on November 30. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday.
Born in Iglo, Hungary (now Slovakia) in 1914, Mr. Szeredas was both witness to and active participant in the turmoil sweeping over Europe for the balance of the 20th century. [more]
Memorials Dedicated to 1956
"October 23, 1956, is a day that will live forever
in the annals of free men and nations. It was a day of courage, conscience
and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the
eternal unquenchability of man's desire to be free, whatever the odds
against success, whatever the sacrifice required."-
President John F. Kennedy,
Albert Camus' Stirring Letter to the World:
"The Blood of the Hungarians"
I am not one of those who wish to see the people of Hungary take up arms again in a rising certain to be crushed, under the eyes of the nations of the world, who would spare them neither applause nor pious tears, but who would go back at one to their slippers by the fireside like a football crowd on a Sunday evening after a cup final.
There are already too many dead on the field, and we cannot be generous with any but our own blood. The blood of Hungary has re-emerged too precious to Europe and to freedom for us not to be jealous of it to the last drop.
But I am not one of those who think that there can be a compromise, even one made with resignation, even provisional, with a regime of terror which has as much right to call itself socialist as the executioners of the Inquisition had to call themselves Christians.
And on this anniversary of liberty, I hope with all my heart that the silent resistance of the people of Hungary will endure, will grow stronger, and, reinforced by all the voices which we can raise on their behalf, will induce unanimous international opinion to boycott their oppressors.
And if world opinion is too feeble or egoistical to do justice to a martyred people, and if our voices also are too weak, I hope that Hungary’s resistance will endure until the counter-revolutionary State collapses everywhere in the East under the weight of its lies and contradictions.
Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years. But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary, and it can be no comfort to us, for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories.
In Europe’s isolation today, we have only one way of being true to Hungary, and that is never to betray, among ourselves and everywhere, what the Hungarian heroes died for, never to condone, among ourselves and everywhere, even indirectly, those who killed them.
It would indeed be difficult for us to be worthy of such sacrifices. But we can try to be so, in uniting Europe at last, in forgetting our quarrels, in correcting our own errors, in increasing our creativeness, and our solidarity. We have faith that there is on the march in the world, parallel with the forces of oppression and death which are darkening our history, a force of conviction and life, an immense movement of emancipation which is culture and which is born of freedom to create and of freedom to work.
Those Hungarian workers and intellectuals, beside whom we stand today with such impotent sorrow, understood this and have made us the better understand it. That is why, if their distress is ours, their hope is ours also. In spite of their misery, their chains, their exile, they have left us a glorious heritage which we must deserve: freedom, which they did not win, but which in one single day they gave back to us. (October 23, 1957)
AHF dedicates this work
- Read this in German, Hungarian, French, and Spanish on this AHF member site, the [American Hungarian Museum]