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While much of North America was focusing on the Suez Crisis in November 1956, a half dozen Hungarian “freedom fighters” had fled Budapest and crossed the Iron Curtain into Austria. From there they were re-located to Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where they were invited to a hall to address the student body of Canadians at a local college. Their English speaking spokesman, Georg, set the scene for the Hungarian Revolution by outlining his own background of oppression by the authorities.

The odious Hungarian Secret Police (AVO) were local Hungarian Communists who had Soviet Officers. Georg had been sent to the AVO prisons 7 times or 51 months altogether. In 1947, Georg had told a meeting of fellow students that the Communist regime, which was seizing power, would break Hungary. The AVO, who seemed to know when all such meetings were held, and what was discussed, arrested him and kept him for the first two weeks at the hated AVO headquarters before throwing him into prison for a whole year.

His parents were taken to see him one day across a 10-metre gap, but his tortured head had swollen so large that they didn’t recognize him. Prison life was deplorable. One fellow inmate was taken to the gallows each week and told he was about to be hung. Each time after ten minutes, he would be returned to his cell. Through such torture, his hair had turned completely white while he was only 27 years old.

In the freezing cold of January, the fire hoses routinely drenched prisoners. Prison food was often unfit for consumption, and many died unless supplements were sent from home. The guards would deny such food from some, and others simply could not digest it as they had not eaten properly for two weeks.

In 1949, Georg now free, visited a friend several times in the prison and there planned the friend’s escape, which was later pulled off successfully. Some AVO men traced through the visitation records and, acting on a hunch that Georg had been involved, sat in his apartment with him for three months on a stake out waiting until the friend turned up. They whiled away the time playing cards. When the friend eventually arrived outside the apartment, he recognized the guards’ car parked conveniently outside as being one typically used by the AVO, and stole it.

During this time, the AVO guards had used up all of Georg’s savings buying food for the apartment. Georg told the AVO guards that he had arranged a back-up rendezvous with the escapee at a restaurant in another city, but obviously he had no money to get there. The pair of AVO guards drove him to it and ordered a full course dinner for the three of them. The friend, of course, didn’t show up, but for his trickery in obtaining a wonderful meal paid for by the AVO, he was returned to the AVO headquarters prison in Budapest for three more weeks.

Georg continued to be perceived as a troublemaker for the regime (e.g. he was often caught dancing in public), and was put to work in a mine as a “prisoner” for three years in 1951. On December 21, 1955, he was taken once more to AVO headquarters, but this time they did not at first tell him why he was taken prisoner. After two weeks, he was told it was because he and his cadet officer friends had been planning to start a revolt beginning in January, 1956. The accusation was true.

For four and a half months he was kept in a room with a wooden bed and a light in the ceiling with a bright reflector. The lamp burned night and day. He saw no one but his interrogators. Eventually, without trial, he was sentenced to twelve years in prison, and the AVO’s told him that they had known about the cadets and their meetings since 1949.

The cadets’ leader had been sentenced to 17 years, the next in command was given 15 years, Georg and another were given 12, and a dozen others received 7 each. Between the sixteen of them, they were given 140 years in total. He remained in prison when the 1956 Revolution began in late October.

On October 31, 1956, he was set free because the Revolution had subsided when the Russians had left. He went home for a day, and then went to try to spy on the whereabouts of the AVO’s important officers by going to their headquarters offering to give up a bit of information. On November 3rd, he returned to his old unit’s barracks in central Budapest prepared to fight the Russians as tension mounted that they would re-invade. Indeed, the shortly-to-be puppet Premier Kadar, whose fingernails had been removed by the AVO years before, had secretly asked the Russians to return with tanks to put down the uprising once and for all.

At 03:30 early Sunday morning on the 4th, an alarm sounded throughout the barracks and all scrambled to head out to fight. The Russians were back and their “Panzers” or heavy T-34 tanks rumbled through the nearby main streets at great speed. Georg’s unit had an anti-tank gun and from a side street fired at right angles and hit nine tanks. In just five minutes, their ammunition was exhausted, so they returned to their barracks to find that its city block was surrounded by Russian troops. The Russians rushed into the central courtyard destroying the big assembly hall, while the Hungarians inside retreated to the upper windows.

From there they shot at the attackers with machine guns. Many rebels hastily assembled Molotov cocktails from pop bottles filled with gasoline and powder from bullets. Fuses were inserted and the “weapons” were then corked, lit and thrown. The defenders killed most of the attackers and forged out onto the main streets to battle the tanks. The dead Russians each had several hand grenades hanging from their belts which some of the Hungarians retrieved and dismantled. Each grenade’s powder could be redistributed into ten small jar-grenade cocktails that were thrown into tank treads to split them apart. Citizens were siphoning gas from parked vehicles and throwing it over the hot engine exhausts of the tanks; many burst into flames. As the Russians popped the hatch open to escape the burning, the Hungarians shot them.

The only vision from the well-sealed tanks was through periscopes, and small girls would run up onto the moving tanks and smear marmalade over the eye piece of the periscope so that the Russians couldn’t see, and rather than sit there blinded, some would pop the top and try to escape. One brave girl showed others how to hold a lit match over an eyepiece, and the Russians, thinking that the whole tank was ablaze, jumped out to their death. Two of the huge tanks were towing anti-tank guns behind them. Some of the rebels rushed up, disconnected the guns and quickly turned them around to shoot and disable the towing tanks. Those tanks that were still in working order were taken over by the Hungarians for use against the Russians.

Various civilians were both brilliant and brave in trying to even the score against the Russians. One of Georg’s fellow refugees, in the hall, was a truck driver who had been rousted out of bed by his friends shortly after midnight and urged to help in the fight. While sleeping, he wore only his bathing suit, and having had no time to dress, ran down to the street and drove a truck all day dressed only in it. As he ferried rebels and supplies through the Budapest streets, he saw Russians shooting Red Cross trucks without regard. He was sickened to see a tank running over four dead Hungarians whose bodies lay in a street and to see old men and women who had gone out to buy food shot dead in the street. In fact, just about anyone found in the streets by the Russians were shot.

Georg explained that one of the other refugees in the hall was one of a group of resistors who broke into the central AVO prison and by using a house telephone were able to contact a room in the prisoners’ section of the building. They cried “Help! Help! We are suffocating as the Russians won’t give us air”. It was later reported that the Russians had filled that room with water and it is believed that 141 inside perished. In that prison they saw a vat of sulphuric acid used to start the disintegration of bodies of prisoners and a machine for chopping the remains into small pieces before being dumped into the river. Georg said the AVO thought that the Romanians and Yugoslavs living down river should not be allowed to recognize that bodies were in their water supply.

Another Hungarian freedom fighter present was the brother of the truck driver above, and during the day of the 4th, he had jumped into the empty cab of a Hungarian Army small truck. The driver had gone to get instructions and the rear was full of soldiers and fresh weapons. He drove it to the house of a fellow student rebel where several of his friends disarmed the soldiers and distributed the supplies to those who knew what to do with them. They then went through the streets of Budapest hunting down Russians. One of them threw four hand grenades into a Russian pillbox killing its ten or twelve occupants, and then, exhausted, lay down on the street and fell asleep.

By the end of the first day, Georg’s house and the one across the street along with tens of thousands of others in Budapest had been blown up by the Russians. The invading Russians now crushed his army unit and he and his friends were weaponless against the tanks. They had hoped that the Americans or other Westerners would have come to help. Radio Hungary’s frantic SOS’s to the west during the previous few weeks had never had a reply.

On the second night, with the others, they decided to flee to Austria, and put on pants stolen from dead Russian soldiers. After crossing into Austria, they were temporarily transferred to Switzerland to await their eventual deployment to somewhere here in free North America.

copyright © Peter H. Hebb

Peter Hebb is a retired Vancouver executive; extracted from his 1956 diary.

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They were arrested: between June and October 1951, in total there were 21 of them; among them 2 girls who were not even 18 years old.

Accusation: armed organization to overthrow the People's Republic (they never found any weapons)
Questioning: at the AVH [earlier AVO] Headquarters at Fo utca.
Hearing: January 1952, at Marko Street, president was prosecuting attorney Jonas

Ádám Magasházy, office worker, 20 years old, death, executed June 1952, in the Transit Prison
Ernő Sallay, office worker, 20 years old, death, executed June 1952, Transit Prison
Aladár Merényi, operating theatre technician, 20 years old, 15 year
Tibor Danielffy, university student, 20 years old, 12 years
József Deak, university student, 10 years
János Heinz, office worker, 20 years old, 19 years
Mihály Könyves Tóth, engineering university student, 20 years old, 10 years
Iván Ghéczy, textile dyeing technician, 20 years old, 10 years
Andor Sebész, veterinary student, 20 years old, 10 years.
All the others (among those must have been Georg) received 3-10 years sentences that included the 2 young women.

Ádám Magasházi was the son of Ödön Magasházy, the executive technical director of WM (Weiss-Manfred were the largest factory owners in Budapest before the 2nd WW). His father was executed in Feb. 4, 1950 at the military prison on Margit Boulevard, with the accusation of conspiracy and spying. Adam organized a resistance group from his friends and schoolmates in Csepel. Sallay belonged to this group; he was an office worker at Csepel and the secretary of DISZ (Democratic Youth Cooperative). They both received life, at the first degree; at the time of their arrest neither of them were over 20 years old! However, when they passed 20, both were condemned to death, at the second degree; and soon after that they were executed in the yard of the Kisfogház [Small Prison]."

Cited from:

"Börtönvilág Magyarországon; 1945-1956", by István Fehérváry
Published in 1990, by Magyar Politikai Foglyok Szövetsége.

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