The 1956 Hungarian Revolution
The Soviets return with a vengeance
Early on the evening of the 3rd of November our Director asked me to his office to listen to reports of massive Soviet movements over our borders.
I was very confused after I left his room and I had trouble understanding and reconciling what I had just heard confirmed - that the Soviets were swarming over our borders - although we had heard rumours of it before and radio reports the previous night of some troop movements, this report just reconfirmed the worst. Their intentions were obvious: reinvade our country, and by brutal, superior forces squash our Revolution.
I could not sleep much on the night of the 3rd of November. All through the night conflicting pictures ran through my mind, the week of peace and calm and now the Radio reports of the Soviet forces coming over the borders in seemingly endless convoys near Csap and from Romania.
My naivety and optimistic, trusting nature had trouble coming to grips with this, after a week of hearing and experiencing a euphoric victory and a realisation of our national aspirations.
The news of the invasion instantly destroyed the last few days' euphoria of peace and freedom. It quickly died away and turned to disbelief and anger.
In the early hours of the fourth of November, the Soviet troops attacked Budapest, many other Hungarian cities, and the people within. Our victory did not last very long.
I could hear distant gunfire and explosions early in the morning. By the time I had finished my hurried pretence of a breakfast, the gunfire and explosions seemed to be getting closer. Our hostel was opposite the Parliament Buildings and I could hear some heavy explosions nearby. I could also see some army trucks and tanks near the Parliament Buildings as I stepped out of the doorway.
I turned right, towards the 'Ring Road', only a short distance away. I did not go far before I noticed a barricade-like obstacle near the end of the street, near the 'Ring Road' corner.
As I got closer, I could see immediately that it was a massive, well constructed and well manned barricade. It was practically blocking the whole street. I began to run as I got closer, and was running quite fast by the time I got to the barricade and the people that were manning it.
A large group was congregated around a tall skinny guy who was talking and listening to the group and seemed to possess some authority and the group seemed to accept his authority and obligingly followed his advice.
There were other smaller groups standing around and talking. Most of them had machineguns and ammunition slung over their shoulders. Most seemed well armed, mainly with Soviet 'Davay-lant' (Properly named Pepeshka, PPSH for short. A Soviet-made short barrelled submachine gun with a drum clip, holding 71 rounds), talking loudly so they could be heard over what seemed to be real bedlam.
Behind of the barricade was a large cache of a great variety of weapons. Girls, boys and older ladies came and left, depositing more weapons at the stockpile. Some of the weapons were from the Hungarian Army, which had either surrendered or joined us soon after our revolution began, or were captured from the Soviets a few days ago.
During the fighting, whenever a weapon ran out of ammunition, someone would hand us another clip or another machinegun or we would grab another one from the pile ourselves. We seemed to have more than enough to go around at the time.
A few minutes later the word got around and the 'helping hands', - young kids and teenage girls - removed most of the cache of weapons to a nearby cellar for safety and future use in case the barricade was attacked or overrun. They left enough for the forthcoming battles.
The battles seemed to be getting fiercer and closer to us. There were constant large explosions, tanks firing at imaginary or real groups of people, at buildings, and the constant rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. I could often hear the large tank shells whistling past at the end of the street, exploding with a loud boom not too far away. The windows, open mainly to avoid the glass breaking but also for us to fire through at our enemy, were rattling, and buildings shook with each explosion. One could hear many different kinds of explosions, tanks, hand-grenades, guns, machine guns, and 'Molotov cocktails'.
The barricade was near the 'Szent István körút' (Saint Stephen Ring Road) corner and was built mainly of cobble stones ripped up from the roads, old cars, trucks, metal girders, timber, furniture and any other materials our helpers could lay their hands on. Sandbags, wood and concrete blocks began to materialise from somewhere. It seemed a good time to clean out the homes, attics and cellars of useless or stored things.
I quickly joined in to help in reinforcing the barricade, but not for very long. After what seemed like only a few minutes, a group of young boys ran back from the 'Ring Road' screaming "Three of them coming from the bridge", meaning there were three Soviet tanks coming from the Margit hid (Margaret Bridge) direction.
The 'Ring Roads' are some of the main arteries of Budapest. They are wide, tree lined boulevards and main thoroughfares that connect Buda and Pest through the bridges. Whoever controls them controls the city. They were the main targets and thoroughfares of the Soviets too. We had to defend our Revolution, our gains, our freedom, and our city. We had to stop the Soviets every which way we could, if we could. We had to stop them on the 'Ring Roads' and any other roads we could, and for as long as we could. Hopefully forever.
Someone put a machine gun and an old attaché case containing four or five full clips of ammunitions and some hand-grenades into my hands. Then they grabbed me by the arm and we ran towards the 'Ring Road', as close to the walls as we could. We all seemed to be running, bent forward, half crouched, nearly touching the walls, just as if helicopters were hovering just above our heads. It came naturally at the time and also provided a smaller target in case we were attacked. The tanks came towards us, their tracks running on the cobbled street and highly revved engines making an ear-splitting noise on the building-enclosed canyon of the street. Their machine guns were blazing - the turret one as well the forward facing one - their staccato rattling and the ricochets of their bullets adding to the cacophony of noise all around us. They were firing their main guns as well, as rapidly as they could load them. Their main aim was to create chaos and intimidate and frighten people with their superior, awesome fire power.
As we got to the corner we could hear the heavy shells whistling past us and exploding a fair way further up the 'Ring Road', probably hitting someone's home or business.
We hid around the corner and fired our machine guns at the nearest tank running towards us, rather over-enthusiastic of us. The tank returned our machine gun fire with their heavier and continuous fire. I could see the main gun turning towards us too - time to run for cover. We ran into the nearest doorway, not wanting to draw their attention to our barricade. We had made an over-enthusiastic and inexperienced tactical error. Our small calibre machine gun fire was entirely useless and ineffective against their heavy armour and had only succeeded in giving away our position. We would be using better tactics next time for sure, in order to see the day out.
"Come this way!" screamed someone running into the nearest doorway. Five or six of us followed the voice. From here on I will call him 'Screamer' for the rest of this account. We ran into the building, heading for the stairway down to the cellar. The cellar had a hole cut through to the neighbouring cellar. We squeezed through the hole and ran to the rear stairway and up the five or six stories to the roof. Before I could get near and help, some of the boys had removed the tiles and were looking down the 'Ring Road' when the first tank rolled just past our building.
A couple of the boys were lighting the rags on some 'Molotov Cocktails', ready to throw them at the next tank as it approached our building. I poked my head through the roof and saw another tank nearing our building. I could not tell whether it was the old Soviet T34 of WWII fame or the more recent T54 or T55 model. I was not an expert at identifying tanks, but I knew a tank if I saw one. It was most likely one of the later one, as even from up there it seemed huge and menacing, trying to kill us if he could, and destroy our precious, newly won freedom.
"Drastute tovarish" ("Good day, Comrade", - Russian was compulsory and therefore also hated in all our schools) screamed one of the boys as he hurled his petrol filled bottle with its lit wick stuck in it at the tank just below us. Two of the boys threw their bottles down as well, but I could see four or five bottles hitting the tank. Some people below us, who we could not see, must have thrown their bottles from the windows as well. The tank was soon engulfed in flames as it rushed forward out of sight of us.
Another tank a few hundred metres away from us must have seen what happened and opened fire on our building. The whole building shook as a couple of tank rounds and a long burst of machine gun fire hit it.
"Let's go!" 'Screamer' screamed again. (I cannot remember his name these days. I do not even know if I ever learned his name in the first place. I suppose I could have given him a name like Jancsi, (Johnny) for the sake of this story, but what if he reads this story and doesn't like the name, because in reality, his name was Feri, (Franky). Anyway, there were a lot of nicknames flying around that day, some old ones, some just acquired during our time together. Even I had one that was used on me before: 'Szunyog', meaning mosquito, because of my skinniness.)
A few of us ran with 'Screamer' towards the stairs and down, leaving others up on the roof to do battle with the tanks, come what may.
Another shell must have hit the building as we were running down the stairs, because the whole building shook again, the stairway wobbling under our feet like jelly, and there was choking dust everywhere. We did not have time to be scared, our adrenaline kept us going. I was running down the steps two or three at a time.
'Screamer' and we ran out to the street and back to our barricade a few yards away, crouching and keeping near the wall, our guns held ready to fire. There were many people behind the barricade. Machine guns were going rat-tat-tat, people were yelling and screaming, girls and women were cleaning wounds, giving comfort drinks and food. The whole scene seemed like well-rehearsed mayhem. We screamed to the people at the barricade about hitting the tank, they screamed back at us to hear over the constant noise of yelling, unceasing machine gun fire, and reverberating explosions.
"Come.", screamed the 'Screamer' again. I went with the group back to the next street. "Why?" my mind was asking me. I wanted to run out onto the 'Ring Road' and stop the invasion single-handedly. My adrenaline was super charged. I did not know what I might miss by running this way, which appeared to be a backward step to me at the time. The Soviets may take over the whole town if I do not stop them at the 'Ring Road'.
We ran to the next corner, again keeping close to the walls. We crossed the street and ran into the doorway nearest to the corner. The air was full of dust, smoke, and a cacophony of noises. There was also a heavy smell of burning gunpowder. The Soviets had come back and they were here to destroy our town and our short-lived victory over the Soviet-style-communist tyranny. 'The end is nigh' flashed through my mind, but about at the same instant, my adrenaline took over and I had to fight on for our victory.
Hurriedly we ran into the building across the courtyard to the back stairway and up to the roof. There was quite a large group there already, talking agitatedly, loudly, looking and waiting for the next opportunity, waiting for the next tank to roll towards us. We were ready with our bottles of petrol, ready to light the rag and throw it down at the tank.
I poked my head though the hole in the roof and looked around, but I could not see any tanks coming. I saw a large group of people running out with an assortment of tools in their hands and attacking the road's paving and cobble stones to slow down the tanks. They were quickly pulled up and arranged in big piles. It seemed a very good idea at the time and I was burning with desire to be down there giving them a helping hand. I wanted to be everywhere at the same time to be useful. Later on, I saw that all those peoples' efforts presented very little obstacle to those huge tanks.
Three or four large lorries were approaching full of troops, firing machine guns in every direction. The diggers disappeared as suddenly as they appeared, through doorways and down into cellars, popping out of the next building or a few buildings away with their guns and tools.
Two or three boys in our group threw their 'Cocktails' at the trucks as they approached our building. I could hear the breaking of the glass and the whoosh of the igniting petrol. The bottles missed the truck, but it soon caught fire from the spreading flames on the road. There was one hell of a commotion as the trucks tried to stop, many of the Soviets trying to get off the truck, others firing in a desperate effort and indiscriminately in all directions. The trucks decided to speed up and they rushed towards Marx tér (Marx Square), only a short distance away.
"Gyertek!", (Which could be translated 'Let's go', 'Come', 'Follow me', using the 'familiar' Hungarian) screamed 'Screamer' again. A group of us followed him down the stairs, jumping two or three steps at the time as we went down. Swiftly we ran back - in the now familiar crouching, running, gun toting way, close to the buildings - quite a few bullets whistled past my ear as we approached the barricade. In a matter of a few hours, which only appeared to be minutes in the excitement I seemed to have undergone a crash course in modern guerrilla warfare, despite my pacifist nature.
There was a lot of excited, loud talking as everybody tried to recount recent happenings and listen to what an 'authoritative' man was telling us to do. He seemed to be in charge of the whole group. He was about my height (5'8') more or less, though at times he seemed gigantic due to the excitement. I would guess he was about 40 years old, again give or take a few years, since it didn't really matter and I never really worried about it. He probably had some military experience or training or just leadership qualities. It did not really matter at all at the time; everybody talked and listened to him and took his orders willingly.
A young lady put a sandwich in my hand and offered a cup of - I do not know now - what it was, coffee, tea with rum or pálinka (Hungarian - usually - plum brandy)? I suppose I will never know she was shot right in front of my eyes as she was handing me the drink. Her hands rose up, instantly spilling some of the drink on me, her body shaking momentarily, than her legs collapsed and she fell to the ground. I hit the road in a self-amazing speed, fishing for my machine gun as I fell right on it. I looked around to see where the bullets had come from. Everybody was crouching against the barricade. Lying on my stomach, trying to look over, but hiding as much as I could, I stuck my gun through a small hole and shot at the Soviets who were firing at us from 'Ring Road' corner, probably less than hundred meters away. I fired ceaselessly until I had to change my clip. A stream of bullets whistled past me, striking stones and ricocheting in front of me, beside me, everywhere. I pulled my head in and turned on my side, turning slightly to grab another clip and tossing the empty one towards the corner in anger.
"Now is the time" - I thought to myself - "either they kill me or I will kill them all." Some silly things go through the mind under attack or pressure. The firing stopped as suddenly as it started. A group of us cautiously ran to the corner.
A group of Soviets were running away from our corner about fifty meters away, firing in all directions. Three or four of us opened fire on them simultaneously with our machine guns. Who got whom, no one will ever know, but after a few bursts of machinegun fire from our group they all fell quiet, lying across the footpath and road. It might have looked suicidal at times, but we were spared for another fight. Another tank was approaching from the Nyugati's (Nyugati Pályaúdvar; Western Railway Station) direction, about 500 meters away.
'Screamer', - he seemed to be in charge of my group - screamed back towards the barricade: "Where's the bazooka"? Almost instantly, (I don't think he had time to finish his sentence), a head popped up and a young fellow started to run towards us with the bazooka slung over his right shoulder, a couple of other fellows running after him with two or three extra rockets in their hands.
Most of us ran back towards the barricade, leaving the 'bazooka man' with only a small group at the corner. Not for fear for ourselves, but giving the Soviets a smaller target to fire at.
I heard the whoosh of the bazooka being fired, - before we managed to get very far - and one hell of a big bang as the bazooka hit. Hit what? The road? A building? A tank? How did it hit the tank? Soviet tanks are not the easiest things to destroy.
As a cavalcade of thoughts ran through my mind at lightning speed, there were more and larger explosions. Did he hit the tank?! The tank exploding?! The ammunitions exploding inside?! - I tried to visualise the inferno. - Or was the tank firing as rapidly as it could, or were there more tanks firing?! I saw the 'bazooka man' run into the first doorway from the corner, to my great relief, though I do not remember seeing him again.
A sudden, relative quietness pervaded for a few moments. I managed get another sandwich, a cup of coffee with just enough sugar (I like my coffee sweet; about two or three spoonful). This was not the time to worry about niceties like that.
The man in charge told us that we had disabled at least one of the tanks and we were doing fine. As happened many times before and many times later, some one started off quietly singing "Isten álld meg a Magyart" ("God Bless the Hungarian's", Hungary's revered Hymn. It was one of the casualties under the communist regime as on most occasions the Russian Anthem and the Internationale substituted it), gradually joined by the rest of the group.
Someone came to me to tell me that, Imre Nagy, our Prime Minister made S.O.S. speech earlier in the morning appealing to the 'Western' 'Free world' for help against the Soviet's brutal invasion.
A few minutes later someone brought a tape recorder around and with a few of us gathered near to it, replayed Imre Nagy's appeal earlier the morning, we could just hear some of it some time in between explosions and the many other noises around us at the time, but it sounded something like below, in Hungarian.
"This is Premier 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." Historical Text Archive.
During this time the "Authority" went from group to group to acknowledge our achievements and bravery and to spur us on for the coming hours. Our adrenaline was running high, we did not really need any extra motivation.
I had nearly lost track of time, but looking at my watch, it was not quite ten o'clock yet - or had my watch stopped, unable to stand up to the eventful day? I chatted with few of the 'boys' around me. Most of them were students like me from the Universities, some were from High Schools, some from schools, and all other kinds of people, some young, some older, girls and ladies, and many older ladies - many my mum's age or older. People of Budapest, people of Hungary, everybody seemed to be on the streets, on the barricades. Busy talking, busy singing, busy defending our revolution, our freedom.
Many of the people around had already lost a friend, husband, son, daughter, father, flat, business, but hadn't lost their enthusiasm and willingness to fight the invading Soviets, who want to rob us of our yearning for freedom, our self respect. No one was ready to admit it even to themselves that against such an overwhelming force our fight was futile and our cause was in dire straits.
The battle was still raging on. I could hear the machine guns and heavy explosions, the singing, the talking, excited talk and the reminiscing. We could smell the cordite, the dust, and the freshly made coffee. After those few minutes of calm, I could hear more machine gun fire and explosions getting nearer. Our few short minutes of break were over, tanks were approaching. 'Screamer' screamed, and a group of us rushed and followed him.
We ran up to the roof of the corner building. I had a quick, furtive look around. There were about 20 or more bottles of petrol near the hole of the roof ready for 'tank killing'. Some of the 'boys' were throwing their 'Cocktails' at the tanks when I got to the hole. I grabbed a couple and quickly hurled them at the tanks running below us in the street. Most of the 'Cocktails' thrown from our roof exploded on the tanks or just broke up and caught fire instantaneously.
We ran down to the street and waited for the tank crew to jump out and give us enthusiastic fighters a decent target to shoot at. The tank slowed down first, our anxiety running wild, then speed up and rushed away, burning all over. "Where's the 'burning tanks graveyard'?" I asked myself. We had set fire to three or four tanks already by then, as well as a couple of lorries, and they all sneaked away somewhere out of sight.
I was determined to find out sooner or later where the 'burning tanks convention' was being held. Right now, though, I followed 'Screamer' back to the barricade where some casualties were being tended to by the women-folk and some guys - presumably doctors or nurses. There seemed to be an awful lot of blood around and the barricade seemed to have taken a direct hit, looking like in a bit of a shambles.
The 'Authority' was there consoling the casualties, encouraging everybody and spurring us on. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me in a surprisingly gentle manner and halting voice to 'get something to eat and drink, he needs me in good shape'. 'It's going to be a long day and a long fight', or something to that effect.
I felt an urge to go to the Corvin köz (A small street and a square) towards the other end of the 'Ring Road', with a cinema there and near to Ûllõi út and the Killian Barracks. Ûllõi út, being one of the major roads to the Airport and many parts of Hungary, and one of main route of the Soviets into town. Killian Barracks was there as well, where a few days previously there was considerable fighting, until the colonel in charge, Pál Maléter, surrendered his barracks, supplies, men, and himself to the Revolutionaries and later became the Defence Minister in the Nagy Government. Corvin köz and Széna tér in Buda had seen some of the fiercest battles on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of October, excepting only the storming of the Radio Buildings.
I just wanted to know how the boys were getting on with their battles there now. At the time, I had neither the time nor the opportunity to slip over there though. We had a battle to fight here and now. I was needed here. I felt really needed and this really spurred me on.
We were told that one of the Soviet lorries caught fire, but several of the soldiers managed to jump off and were heading our way. There were also a couple of tanks coming from the Nyugati's direction.
A group of about twenty of us rushed to the corner to wait for the marauding group of Soviets that got off the truck. They were about forty meters away when we reached and looked around the corner. We all fired at them with all the gusto we could muster. The Soviets fired back at us without even giving it a second thought. Everybody was screaming, swearing at them, and encouraging and urging each other on. Bullets whistled and flew all around me. Two of our group was hit, one after the other, unfortunately. The Soviets were all killed.
We carefully carried our friends into the nearest house and yelled for someone to come and see to them and ring for an ambulance. Amazingly, even during the battles, I saw a number of ambulances and private cars with a white handkerchief or rag on an umbrella, walking stick or broom handle hanging out the window and rushing the injured to the hospital. They usually just darted across the 'Ring Road' to disappear in the many little side streets, to avoid the Soviets or the heavy fighting.
As I turned around, I noticed a couple Soviets turning in the doorway, their machine guns blazing. I quickly jumped aside as the bullets whizzed all around me. Most of the buildings in the inner Budapest streets were five or six stories high with an enclosed courtyard in the centre. The courtyard and the entrance always enhance, reverberate, and echo all talking or noises. The machine gun fire, the shells hitting something, ricocheting all around, us yelling to each other, the Soviets yelling their heads off, made a loud chaotic cacophony of noise in such an enclosed place barely tolerable. We all aimed our guns at them and soon stopped them in their tracks. Thank God, we won this round without any further casualties.
Abandoning our 'bloody' shelter, we rushed back to our barricade. They had suffered some casualties too. Everybody was busy seeing to the wounded, repairing the barricade, reloading our guns, or passing food or drinks around. The noise, the dust, and the gunpowder smell just hung all around us, as if it could not find a better place to shift to. I suppose it was the same over all of Budapest at that time.
Rat-tat-tat again and it was getting nearer. Everybody grabbed their guns in a hurry, ready for the invaders to show their heads around the corner for instant action from our group. (Now, many years later I can be joking about these things, but I can assure you it wasn't funny at the time.) A few minutes later, which seemed like eternity at the time, all went quiet (from the invaders side anyway).
All the machine gun fire and the prostrate bodies of the Soviet soldiers at our corner attracted the attention of one of the passing tanks. It stopped suddenly by the kerb on the 'Ring Road' facing our little street and barricade. The 'Authority' screamed out "Run, run!" and everybody ran towards the nearest doorway. I was just by the doorway when the round hit our barricade. The large, heavy cobble stones, shrapnel, sand, steel, timber - everything was flying around like ping pong balls, hitting windows, buildings, the street and some unfortunate friends of mine. The blast knocked me off my feet and into the courtyard inside the building. Dust and rubbish was flying everywhere. The air was full of dust and a burning smell. I was grasping for air, just to swallow more smoke and dust. We suffered more casualties. As the reverberating noise of the explosion and objects stopped flying around, I struggled to my feet, poked my head out the doorway, and saw a burning Soviet tank racing away, probably trying to find a better, safer place for the crew to abandon the tank or was in a dying hurry to join the 'burning tanks convention'.
If the crew came out on top, we would have waited for the last one to emerge to shoot them or throw them another 'Cocktail' or hand-grenade. If they stayed inside, the petrol and fire soon forced them out or they would blow up with their own ammunition and diesel or whatever they were driving about with. They could escape through the bottom hatch too, but most of the time there was an even fiercer fire burning on the road from the spilt petrol. If this crew did not stop and get out soon, the whole tank would blow up along with their unused rounds.
I saw five or six tanks, and about as many trucks hit by a 'bazooka' or 'Molotov Cocktail' and burning, but up to now I had not seen any abandoned or destroyed tanks or trucks anywhere nearby.
I felt jubilant every time my group managed to hit a tank or truck or killed some or their soldiers, but the truth is, I could not say for certain that I hit anyone because so many in my group were aiming at the same person. I suppose many groups all over Budapest were doing the same as us. The Soviet casualties must have been high.
The overall reality of the present situation was that the Soviets kept coming, killing, and wounding the people of Budapest, my friends.
The Soviets had their work particularly cut out against such a fierce, determined opposition. While they had orders to carry out, thousands of kilometres away from their home, we found out that many of them thought they were fighting in Mongolia and most of them did not have any idea where they were.
We were fighting for our lives, our future, our ideas, our aspirations, and our freedom. The Soviet's progress was hindered greatly by the efforts of all of us, the determined freedom fighters. Most of the time the element of surprise was on our side. We also knew our city, our streets, our buildings, and the shortcuts from buildings to buildings. We could melt into one building and emerge four or five buildings away or even in a different street.
Our barricade was practically destroyed after the direct hit of the last round of shells. There wasn't enough left of our barricade to give us cover or shelter or stop any minor or major attack on us. It had to be rebuilt or abandoned. Someone told us that some trucks and tanks were heading our way.
There was a very large group of us now, standing against the walls, some around the remains of our barricade, and many more in doorways. A lot of new faces were joining us all the time. Most of the people joined in as a group and started to pile things up to rebuild the barricade. It was progressing amazingly quickly.
I was staying with the group gathered around 'Screamer'.
The 'Authority' came over and had some discussion with 'Screamer' in a raised voice to be heard over the noise that was engulfing the whole place around us at most of the time.
They were probably discussing our next objective or tactics.
A few minutes later the 'Authority' went over to another group to discuss things or give orders.
'Screamer', yelled out, "Come" or "Follow me", ("Gyertek", could be translated as either) and we were on the run again, following him towards another street. There was a group of about twenty that ran towards the 'Ring Road'. Another similar group ran back with us in the other direction, on other side of the road. We were running in our usual crouching manner but on the right hand side of the street and we turned to the right at the corner. At the next corner we turned right again and we were running towards the 'Ring Road'.
Reaching the 'Ring Road', we turned right again. There were some trucks and tanks coming and also some pulling away not too far from us.
'Screamer' in front, as he was most of the time, we ran into the nearest doorway and up to the roof. A few left our group on different floors as we proceeded up to the roof. They were heading for some of the flats, to use the windows as their position of attack. (I do not know whether the doors to the flats were left open, or they had to knock to use the windows. I suspect many of the owners of those flats were part of our groups.
Today as well as on the 23 of October I was following people who had more charisma, leadership ability or experience and there seemed to be always some of them around. I was quite happy to follow somebody and do what had to be done.
A group of girls and some older men were filling up bottles with petrol and putting the rag stoppers and wicks in them, getting them ready for us when we got up to the roof. It was not long before some of those bottles were thrown down onto the tanks running just below us. One of the tank was hit by a few bottles at the same time and was burning everywhere, including the road surface all around it. The tank kept running towards the Nyugati. I was laughing to myself. "Here we go again, another one heading to the 'burning tanks convention'. I was really wishing to see one of them blow up right in front of us for once, to see the crowning glory of our efforts and experience as eyewitnesses to the calamity and demise of an exploding tank and inferno, caused by the explosion and detonating ammunition on board the tank. "Never mind," I thought to myself again, "the battle is still raging on, the tanks still keep coming. Eventually I may get my wish granted."
'Screamer' waved and we followed him down the stairs, into the street, to be greeted by a volley of machine gun fire. We quickly ducked back, our backs hard against the wall, slowly creeping back towards the yard. A machine gun was stuck in the doorway but we could not see anybody. The machine gun bullets were whistling in all directions. Rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat, time to fire back, rat-tat-tat and slowly moving backwards.
'Screamer' waved to us to crawl back and stop firing. We all hid behind the walls and waited for the soldiers to appear, thinking that we were all dead. Three or four of them rushed in the doorway, to their waiting death. As the soldiers rushed in, the ones nearest to the edge of our group fired their machine guns until all the 'rushers' were on the floor, quiet and most likely dead. We stayed there, still for a while waiting to see whether there were any more 'rushers', or was it safe for us to go out onto the street and rush them this time. A short while later some more came through the doorway. They did not 'rush' probably because seeing their comrades on the floor put them on the alert.
"Screamer' waved to us again to hide and disperse. We did just in time. I saw the hand grenade hitting the ground about ten meters away and exploding with an enormous big bang, and the building and enclosed courtyard amplifying the bang all around us. Shrapnel, stone, plaster, dust were flying everywhere. I found shelter under the stairway. I felt the stairway and the whole building shaking with the blast. I was lucky and so were all of us, thank God, to avoid the full blast of the hand grenade. A couple more followed just in case, I suppose. This time we were ready for them and well sheltered from the blast, but not so from the noise and dust and all things flying. My respect and admiration of 'Screamer's' advice and caution grew exponentially. My grateful thanks go to him for saving my and my friends' lives. His actions, orders and foresight made me follow and admire him all the time. He was a young fellow, not very much older then I, 25-26 years old, perhaps. We all had hand grenades, (I wandered a couple times during the day how I would be blown up if the attaché case full of live clips and hand grenades on my shoulder was hit by a bullet or something). It would probably do more damage to us in such an enclosed place than the Soviet soldiers trying to rush us. We waited in silence pretending to be dead. Waiting for the soldiers to come in and admire their handy work.
They did not rush in this time. They came slowly, stealthily. We let them come right in the courtyard while we hid further back out of sight, until about four or five came into the yard and fired randomly at their surroundings.
We were hiding behind walls, under stairways in doorways all around them. Someone fired. 'Screamer'? Immediately we started to fire at the soldiers. My finger did not leave the trigger until it stopped firing. I had emptied the whole clip. The 'rat-tat-tat' was almost deafening. Most of the firing stopped by the time my gun ran out of ammunition. I quickly changed the clip, - my last one, - ready to fire again, if need be.
'Screamer' gathered all of us around him and told us we better move on. We will not be so lucky next time, when some soldiers come and see the carnage, they would be very angry and would be seeking revenge.
Quickly we went down to the cellar and crossed over to the next two or three until we came out of a building near our barricade.
The barricade had been rebuilt to some extent, with more sandbags and less cobblestones. Those cobblestones were lethal when the barricade took a direct hit from a tank. There was a very large group of people around the barricade and in the street behind it.
'Screamer' went to talk to the 'Authority'. I chatted with the boys near me, some from my usual group along with some new faces.
There was a constant flow of new faces joining in our battle and often, many of the people fighting beside us a few minutes prior disappeared. They either joined another group or got hit and were taken away for help.
We could hear the noises of the battle all around us. Rat-tat-tat, boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang, some distant, some not so far away. The air was full of noise and dust and smell of the battle. I felt enormous gratitude towards 'Screamer' - his tactics saved me, saved us and meant the end for quite a few of the Soviet soldiers.
The adrenaline was doing overtime inside me and I was spoiling for some more action.
Rat-tat-tat, machine gun fire came suddenly from the 'Ring Road' corner, and bullets whizzed all around us. This time we did not get any warning. Some soldiers crept up on us, firing a blaze of bullets in our direction.
Everybody crouched behind something instantaneously, pointing their weapons in the noise's direction, and fired off a few rounds. The machine gun and the soldier or soldiers behind it disappeared from our sights again. The rat-tat-tat ended as suddenly as it started. A few of the boys courageously crept towards the corner, rubbing against the walls for a quick look at the 'Ring Road'. Normally there was always somebody to warn us, or the defenders at the barricade, of anything approaching our street.
Signals came back from the corner that all was clear, for now.
The 'Authority' was talking with 'Screamer' again after he went to chat with some of the other group 'captains'. I had a quick sandwiches and a cup of coffee. There were girls ready with some nourishment for us at the barricade or one of the doorways most of the times. I grabbed a few more full clips and some hand grenades, and was anxiously waiting for some more forays into the 'Ring Road'.
We did not seem to spend much time around the barricade. I was following 'Screamer' and his little pack (sometimes ten or twenty) around. I rather liked his modus operandi and placed a lot of faith in his instinct, judgment, and leadership, especially after our last couple of skirmishes.
'Screamer' and we spent most of our time running around finding an advantageous position for attacking tanks and trucks running around the 'Ring Road'. Occasionally we went back to the barricade, so 'Screamer' could keep in touch with the 'Authority', brief him about our actions and get updates from him of the general situation locally and the latest news of our defence's progress across the town. We also had to return for getting more ammunition or exchange our arms.
Believing that our actions must be organised to be successful, I waited until someone had some constructive plan in mind to execute, or an opportunity presented itself, like being attacked or fired on.
"Screamer' screamed at last and we ran towards the 'Ring Road' with him. We turned left towards the bridge and I was about to duck in the doorway when I felt something striking my left leg with great force just above the knee, just as I heard a burst of nearby machine gun fire. I was shot above my left knee. I did feel something hitting me with force, but did not feel much of a pain at first. I wasn't even sure if I really got hit as the bullet went right through. I rushed through the gate and then the pain hit me. I could feel and see blood flowing down my leg and into my shoe. The blood was squirting out through the hole in my trousers where the bullet entered and came out as well. The bleeding had to be stopped and the wound had to be dressed quickly, I thought to myself. Suddenly I felt scared, sorry for myself and wanted to rush out and keep fighting all at the same time. The reality of being shot and my adrenaline were fighting their own battle inside me.
Three or four young girls ran to my help from somewhere in the building, led me to a nearby flat and expertly and very quickly stopped the bleeding with a wooden spoon tourniquet, wrapping up the wound with freshly torn bed sheet bandages. One them rushed to telephone for an ambulance. They all seemed very obliging and efficient. They might have been experienced nurses, but I've never managed to find out. Their skills and enthusiasm was in great demand at that time in Budapest.
After about twenty minutes, I was on my way to the hospital again in a private car, a black Mercedes. In 1950's Hungary, not many people owned private cars. Most of the cars were black, and were mainly Mercedes' and were owned by the Government or party officials. There were Skodas and a variety other ones, but not all that many.
The driver was a very friendly middle aged man with a limp. I thought that it was probably because of the heavy limp that he was driving the car instead of being on the street fighting for our freedom.
Hungary had the title of the People's Republic, which
it never was. We only had freedom of speech to praise
communism, the regime, and the ruling communist officials.
We were only free to vote for the communist party. We
were only free to travel within Hungary or the neighbouring
communist countries, if we could afford it. We were
only free to learn compulsory Russian language.
I was sitting in the back seat of the car with the two beautiful young ladies sitting on either side of me. I was twenty years old and could not have dreamed of anything better in my wildest dreams, any other day: sitting between two beautiful girls, one with her arms on my shoulder and saying sweet things, trying to console me. The other girl was holding my leg with both hands, over the bandage on my wounds, to stop or control the bleeding.
I hardly noticed any pain, only an occasional sharp stabbing kind of pain. I did not really have time for pain.
I felt sorry for myself, that I had to leave my friends in their most dire time. Not being there to save them from trouble and give them advice. It was never quite like that, but something inside me was acting over-heroic, and suggesting that the battle without me might not succeed. It was really a very silly thing to think, but the mind can wander and come up with some amazing things at times. I had the time and opportunity right now to let my mind wander around unbridled and unfocused. I was confused and drifting in and out of semi-consciousness, must have been the post traumatic shock and the loss of blood. I was also wishing - forgetting about the pain - that we would never reach the hospital, I would like to just sit on the back seat between the two beautiful young ladies, being comforted, and mollycoddled forever.
I could hear machine gun fire and explosion all around us, everywhere we went. Inside the car I could smell the burnt gunpowder and dust too. The battle was raging in earnest everywhere, probably just around the corner.
We never reached any hospital; instead we ended up in a doctor's surgery. There were other casualties waiting for the doctor's attention. At the time, I was only aware of a very slight pulsing pain. My adrenaline was still working overtime and I was furious and disappointed that I can not participate in the rest of the fighting. My friends and fellow folks of Budapest have to defend our city, revolution, and brief freedom without me again.
The driver left, he must have been in great demand then. The girls stayed for a while, anxious to hear the doctor's diagnosis. They recounted to the doctor what happened and where and when. They seemed to know better than I did anyway. Right than I did not even know the time of the day. I was disappointed and my mind was wandering all over - about the battle, about being shot, about what my group was doing now, and about what 'Screamer' was doing, and about what the 'Authority' was doing. How the girls were going to get back home. I did not even know where I was, I was too engrossed with my misfortune and the girls fussing over me to take much notice of where we were going, all the while slowly drifting in and out of semi-consciousness.
After the girls left I was wondering where they were, and who they were patching up and comforting now.
Are my friends winning the battle?
Are the Soviets running yet?
I was wishing my girlfriend, Anikó was here with me.
I was too proud and too ashamed to telephone my friends and family to let them know that I was shot again, so I lay back and followed the doctor's orders to get on my feet again. I wanted to get back to join my friends and countrymen and women to defend our country, our recently won freedom, our Revolution.
Five of us spent the night in the doctor's 'temporary ward', a room adjoining his surgery.
Early the next morning Imre (Emery), one of my friends from my 'hostel' turned up and spirited me away to his parents' place in Zugló, one of the suburbs not very far from the inner city, but away from the battles that were still raging.
The next day, after a lot of arguing, he convinced me that I wasn't in any state to fight on and he drove me on his Java motorbike to Szécsény, where my family lived at the time. I never found out, how he found out what happened to me and where he can find me. Obviously the young ladies quizzed me more than I could remember in my hazed state and alerted some of my friends and the 'hostel' about my misfortune and the doctor's place.
I felt very disappointed, hopping around on my wounded legs, not being able to join my friends defending our Revolution against the invaders. I was just hopping around aimlessly for days.
The fighting continued for a few more days and nights. There was a general strike across just about the whole country for a few days too.
The Soviets had promised a lot during the previous
days, but many thought they were just buying time. Most
of us expected help from the Western democracies, some
of us had even taken it for granted.
Our hour of need was right now, right here in Hungary and Budapest especially.
Very soon, we all had to learn the hard way that we were alone. We alone had to fight to defend our hard won victory, and we alone would have to face the Communist retaliation if we lost the battles on the streets.
Many of the old Communists, faced with both the defeat and loss of their power and lifestyle and also reprisal for their past sins, had gone to cavort with the Soviets to save their Communist regime and power. At least one of them was rumoured to be Kádár, a member of the new Government, the people's Government.
The Soviets also were not ready to lose one of their puppet states and government. They knew the 'West' was too scared to interfere and fight against them (That was clearly demonstrated by the vast amount of the 'West's' defence budget as a Soviet deterrent) and busy with their own agenda at the time, the 'Suez Crisis'.
While the British and the French were too busy with their Suez affair, the Americans were too upset with the British and French for their Suez War, and they were right in the middle of their Presidential campaign and election as well. The running up to and the elections were not a very good time to get involved overseas with a tiny little nation and go against the 'mighty' Soviet Union.
Conveniently they all turned a blind eye to the Soviet tanks rolling against the people of a small 'Eastern' European nation's Capital. The revolution started in Budapest and would be crushed there if the oppressive forces of the Soviet 'superpower' could subjugate the small nation's people.
The fierce fighting for our freedom and in defence of our short-lived victory went on in earnest for many more days. Every able body and some not so able as well joined in. There were many barricades. They went up all over the city and they went up very quickly to stop the tanks roaming around at will and also to give some protection for us against the marauding Soviet troops and tanks.
There were many heroic acts, many unsung heroes, many casualties as many of the fighters were school kids, young men and women, the Soviet tanks were on a genocidal mission against a future generation.
I listened to the Radio, never knowing whether I could trust them. They were churning out a lot of propaganda, classical music, and the puppet government's call to everybody get back to work, etc. I listened to the Free Europe Radio too but that sounded just as unbelievable, with probably a 'little' bit more substance.
The days rolled on slowly, weeks even slower.
We lost the battle and we lost the war.
The Soviets brutally crushed our Revolution, our gains, our freedom, our expectations.
I was hopping around, helplessly watching our dreams crumble.
After our first victory, the new Nagy Government was anxious to establish law and order and get the country back to normality as soon as possible. Numerous announcements over the Radio asked people to surrender their arms and register as 'freedom fighter' volunteer if the occasion arises. I put my name down too at one of the designated places. Now I was worried, though, that those records would get into the communists' hands when the retaliation will start. My name was on the hospital's and probably the doctor's registry as a casualty as well.
I had to decide quickly whether I would wait for the retaliation or try to escape to the west, to Austria, as I heard a lot of people were taking up this option. I had to decide quickly, I had to decide to ask my family and girlfriend whether they approve, whether they will come with me.
In the end, everybody approved of me going, but no
one was willing to come with me. I think everybody said
they would come later. No one ever did. I think they
were just encouraging me to go and go quickly.
(After my arrival in New Zealand I have learnt that the New Zealand Delegate at United Nations was one of our strongest ally. Numerous occasions he stood up for the Hungarians and our cause, while censoring and chastising the Soviets, demanding their withdrawal.)
Well, that is another day and another story
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