16: Thirteen Days That Shook the Kremlin
<< 15: No More Comrades || Glossary
Thirteen Days That Shook the Kremlin
To those with sharper political awareness, of course, it was evident that the new list
of officials was not the work of Imre Nagy, but the result of a compromise. It is a matter
for speculation whether it would not have been better if Nagy, risking everything to gain
everything, had refused even the appearance of collaborating in any way with Gero and his
colleagues and if, therefore, he would not have done better to have said, "Come what
may," and not to have appeared before the people at Gero's side. Obviously it was not
that he lacked the physical courage for such a move; after all, during the eighteen months
when he had lived under the daily threat of prison, or worse, he had allowed no kind of
pressure to make him waver. But unfortunately, in politics, weaknesses can be as serious
as mistakes, and he did not anticipate the effect such an announcement would have on the
public. No doubt, Nagy had overestimated the eagerness with which his appointment would be
[94/95] received. A man more politically sensitive would perhaps have understood from the
inefficacy of his brief appearance the previous evening before the excited populace at the
Parliament Building that a compromise with Gero would solve nothing and that the time had
come to break openly with him. But Nagy's appreciation of the events had remained oriented
to the early hours of the demonstration, or even, more precisely, to the weeks that
preceded it. He could not imagine that his name, acclaimed everywhere a few hours earlier,
now no longer constituted a sufficient guarantee to the people.
Yet, his position, open though it was to criticism, would have been more defensible if
it had not been for another maneuver by the Gero clique. This maneuver succeeded in
undermining in a few minutes whatever confidence the people could still have in the new
Government and in turning to anger what was left of their enthusiasm.
At 8:45, the radio announcer reported the first step taken by the new Premier. The
step: Nagy's proclamation of martial law. Under this decree, all troublemakers were
subject to the death penalty.
Thus Nagy, whom the people had carried to power and whom the demonstrators looked upon
as one of their own, had inaugurated his term in office by brandishing the death penalty.
He did not speak to the people -to his people. He did not ask them to stop
fighting. He gave no explanation. He simply issued an order. Hardly had he been installed
in the Premier's office than he took on the methods of his predecessors. Or, at least, so
it seemed to the people of Budapest.
But this was not all. The radio, after having twice broadcasted the text of the Nagy
decree, issued a new communique:
"Government organizations have called for help from Soviet troops stationed in
Hungary under the terms of the Warsaw Pact. Responding to the Government's appeal, Soviet
troops will help in the restoration of order." Coming one after the other, the two
communiques, of which only the first was signed by Nagy, created widespread confusion.
Almost everyone believed that both were the work of Nagy. One would have needed a
finely-tuned ear to have noted that the call for Soviet troops did not emanate, as did the
other communique, [95/96] from the Government itself, but from "government
organizations." One would have had to be nursed on the intrigues of a seraglio to
have noted the fact that the name of Nagy did not follow the announcement of the second
communique. And, in their passion and sorrow, in the anger and the blood, these were not
men with finely-tuned ears. Those who had handed the communiques to the announcer and who
had arranged the order in which they were to be broadcasted knew perfectly what they were
Even if one of the points in the students' manifesto had not been a demand for the
withdrawal of Soviet troops, such an appeal could only have been humiliating. Under the
circumstances, the Government decision was taken as an insult. To call on the armies of
the oppressors was, at this moment, treachery. Wounded in their national pride, hungry for
freedom and independence, the people took to the streets.
The fact that this Machiavellian effort to compromise Nagy did in the end run aground
shows what an enormous reservoir of popularity was at the disposal of the new Premier -and
what confidence he enjoyed, and what hope he had aroused. His prestige, to be sure, had
been tainted. But most people, once the first moment of surprise had passed, were simply
incapable of believing that the call for Soviet troops could have been issued at the
initiative of Imre Nagy. It was not that they understood the maneuvering that was going
on, or that they had sensed all the nuances of the official communique; it was purely by
instinct that they could not believe it. That is why, in the streets of the capital, black
with their throngs in spite of the curfew, the demonstrators continued to decry only Gero
and his clique. Groups of students and workers roamed the streets shouting: "Death to
Gero!" and "Russians, go [96/97] home!" There was not a word against Nagy.
On the contrary, a rumor quickly spread: "Imre Nagy is a prisoner, and agents of the
AVH, guns in their hands, are putting pressure on him."
What was the truth?
At that moment Imre Nagy was to be found at Central Committee headquarters, on Academy
Street, not at the Parliament Building, where the Government should have been meeting.
From his windows he could see the street barricaded by Soviet tanks. The corridors of the
building were thronged with militia of the AVH, all fully armed. Their role was ostensibly
that of protector, and, when he passed, they saluted him. But it was evident that, if the
situation deteriorated, Gero would be in charge, not Nagy. Nagy's telephone calls were
being screened. There was no question of free contact with the world outside. In short, he
was a prisoner.
He was a prisoner, also, ill the political sense. He was not free to choose his own
collaborators, nor to rid himself of those he did not want. He found himself in the
state's highest office with a hundred-fold responsibilities, but with only a tenth of the
real power he should have wielded. And not only was he a prisoner of the tanks and of the
submachine-guns, of the telephone switchboard, and of the Stalinist apparatus of Party
headquarters; he was held prisoner by his own ideas, too. This was to be seen, at ten
minutes past noon, when he delivered over the radio "an appeal to the Hungarian
people." His address before the Parliament Building had been heard by only a few
thousand. This time, the entire country hung on his words.
"Order, calm, discipline. This slogan is addressed to all." His entire speech
was a desperate effort at persuasion; there he was suppliant: the fighting must cease; it
must not be permitted that "blood should soil our sacred national program."
Here, too, the discerning ones might have noticed that the speech seemed to be composed of
two parts, the one entirely different from the other. At one point, even the tone of his
voice changed. The second part of the speech was more ordered and it was delivered more
calmly than was the first, which sounded almost breathless.
The fact is that the beginning of the speech had been added at the last moment. In it,
Nagy said that "the summary procedure [laid down in the declaration of martial law]
would not be applied [97/98] against any of those who, to avoid further bloodshed, ceased
their resistance before 2 p.m." This was a concession which had been wrung from Gero
and the Stalinists. Since, by its first decree, the new Government had given the
impression that it was responsible for the proclamation of martial law, Nagy was now
trying to correct that impression. Later on he actually succeeded in preventing any armed
insurgents from being brought before a court-martial, and, furthermore, throughout the
duration of his Government no one was condemned to death(2).
The speech was otherwise revealing by its omissions. It contained not a word on the
call for intervention by Soviet troops. Nagy had no other way to make the country
understand that he was not responsible for calling them. Had it been otherwise, he surely
would have tried to explain this move and to attempt to justify it. His silence was, in
short, a message, and he hoped that it would be understood. He had good reason to count on
the people. And Nagy was not deceiving himself, as far as the people were concerned,
though on this score he was held in contempt by the West. Even political practitioners,
whose role it was to interpret silences as well as words, could not, or would not
understand. It was from this moment on that a vehement radio campaign was launched from
abroad against Nagy-a campaign that had a fatal impact on all that followed.
There was more to Nagy's predicament than even this. In spite of its conciliatory tone
and its imploring warnings, his appeal failed to produce the desired effect because he was
unable to put on record the points in his program which paralleled the demands of the
insurgents. Obviously, he was not able to broadcast the slogan "Death to Gero,"
which was being chanted everywhere by the people of Pest. And, though he could have found
lashing phrases [98/99] with which to denounce the crimes and the infamies of the past, he
did not. He did not so much as even mention the name of Rakosi, for it was his opinion
that this was a time to calm the people, not to incite them. And he did not perceive that
it was precisely his attempts to quiet the people that made them even more excited. . . .
From the long queues which had formed before the bakeries, many of those waiting in
line left to join the line of the marchers. The demonstrators were unarmed. They followed
a red, white, and green Hungarian flag. They were heading in the direction of the
Parliament Building, hoping they would find Nagy there. It was to him they wished to speak
and it was to him they would listen.
On the way, the column was joined by Soviet tanks. The throng showed no hostility
toward the soldiers who manned them. On the contrary, they began to fraternize with them.
Some of the young demonstrators spoke Russian, the study of which was obligatory in
secondary schools. With stumbling grammar, but with passion enough to compensate for their
errors, they tried to explain to the young Russian soldiers that they were neither
fascists nor counter-revolutionaries, that they were not looking for a return to the old
regime, but that they aspired toward liberty and independence as their right. The Soviet
soldiers listened and smiled; at bottom the soldiers would probably have been content if
the matter could have [109/110] been settled without their being involved. The young
Hungarians clambered over the Soviet tanks and planted Hungarian flags on them. Then the
demonstration arrived in front of the Parliament Building. It was a particularly moving
moment, making clear as it did that simple people can understand each other and that the
Hungarian people were not the enemies of the Russian people.
In Parliament Square the people continued to raise their hostile cries against Gero. An
officer of the AVH ordered them to disperse immediately. He reminded them that all
assemblages and all demonstrations were forbidden, and in doing so, he betrayed his own
conviction that the demonstrators intended to attack the Parliament Building.
This gratuitous assumption irritated the crowd. They had marched along without
provoking the slightest incident and they had no intention of attacking the seat of the
National Assembly. They began hurling insults at the officers. "Pig!" they
cried. "Assassin! Down with the
Opposite the Parliament Building, on the roofs of the Ministry of Agriculture, there
was stationed a detachment of AVH troops whose mission it was to control the Square and
the approaches to the Parliament Building. The scene of confusion that followed aroused
them to the point of opening fire on the crowd.
Frightened, the demonstrators panicked. Some ran as fast as their legs would carry
them; others threw themselves flat on their bellies. Many of them sought shelter under the
arcades and behind the pillars of the Parliament Building. Some vaulted through open
windows into the Ministry of Agriculture, from which the firing was coming. A hundred or
two finally succeeded in forcing open the two main doors of the Parliament Building, and
these took refuge inside. Indignation mingled with terror.
This bloody confusion had reached its height when the Soviet tanks opened fire against
the AVH men on the roof. The Russians, not knowing who the men were who had fired into the
Square, thought they themselves had been the target of this assault. They thought they had
been ambushed -that the fraternal appeals and embraces to which they had been subjected
were aimed at disarming their vigilance and laying them open to a surprise attack at the
moment when they least expected it. Accordingly, they fired mainly at the AVH, but also
into the crowd of demonstrators. [110/111]
The Square was soon strewn with the dead and wounded. According to many witnesses, the
dead alone must have numbered between 170 and 180. According to the report of the AVH
guard at the Parliament Building, however, there were no more than twenty-two dead, of
whom four had been policemen. In addition, there were several dead and wounded among the
The news of the massacre, which took place between eleven o'clock and noon, spread
quickly, poisoning the entire atmosphere of the city. There had been thousands of
witnesses to spread the story. The news not only traveled swiftly, but it was amplified
with the telling. Soon, as the radio and the authorities kept their silence, the rumor
spread that there had been thousands of casualties. But the event itself was sufficiently
revolting to make exaggeration of the number of victims unnecessary. New anger filled the
hearts of the people. From now on this anger was concentrated against the AVH. The idea of
armed resistance imposed itself even on the minds of men who previously had not even
thought of such a thing.
Hardly an hour after the massacre, the radio announced that Gero had been superseded
and that Kadar had been appointed to his post. But the news passed almost without effect.
Had it come two or three hours earlier, it might have been decisive. In vain, speakers on
the radio tried to capture their listeners; in vain, they broadcasted appeals to patriots,
though not without a certain clumsiness. "Hungarians!" the announcer proclaimed
(no longer did he address them as "comrades"), "Deck your windows, raise
the tricolor flag!" But the tricolor had already been flying for a day and a half
from the windows of Budapest. And, with the news of the massacre, black flags appeared
In the afternoon, Kadar and Nagy spoke over the radio. Kadar said nothing new; he
repeated the gist of his discourse of the previous evening, giving a sketchy picture of
the situation and larding his speech with vague promises. The Nagy speech, on the other
hand, contained some new elements. Nagy was no longer satisfied with speaking of
counter-revolutionaries; instead he spoke of the bitterness of the workers and the errors
of the past. He promised that, at the next session of Parliament, a reform program would
be presented and that the Government would be reorganized along the lines of a national
and democratic assembly of the patriotic popular front. Even more important, he announced
that the Hungarian [111/112] Government would open negotiations with the Soviet Government
on relations between the two countries, and particularly on the question of the withdrawal
of Soviet troops stationed in Hungary. These negotiations would take place on a basis of
"Hungarian-Soviet friendship, of proletarian internationalism; on a basis of equality
between Communist Parties and socialist countries, and on a basis of national
According to all the evidence, Nagy must have wrung some concessions from Mikoyan and
Suslov -important concessions which he considered a personal success. Nevertheless, the
insurgent people attached little weight to them. Why? Perhaps because the over-all tone of
the speech did not find a favorable echo in the masses. The peroration, "Forward,
then, under the leadership of the Communist Party . . ." irritated rather than
appeased. On the other hand, Nagy had promised that, as soon as order was restored, he
would recall the "Soviet troops whose intervention in the fighting had been made
necessary by the vital interests of our socialist order." The same listeners who the
evening before were unable to discern the nuances of Nagy's speech suddenly had more
sensitive ears and concluded from this last phrase that the call for Russian troops must
have been the work of Nagy. The truth was that the presence of Mikoyan and Suslov made it
impossible for Nagy to pass over the Soviet intervention in silence; nonetheless, it was
on the withdrawal of the troops that he placed the emphasis.
The thing that disappointed the people the most was the fact that Nagy did not name a
single member of the new Government, nor did he fix any date for the departure of the
Soviet troops. His promises were still general in their terms, and they were conditional
regarding the restoration of order. The situation was characterized by a reciprocal
defiance, a common development under such circumstances:
The Government said, "Order first, concessions afterward"; the people said,
"Concessions first, order afterward."
In the course of the day, the tension again increased, not only in the streets, but
also in the offices of the Central Committee. After the massacre in Parliament Square,
Geza Losonczy and Ferenc Donath, who had been summoned by the Party leadership at the same
time as had Nagy -and whom Nagy regarded as his two most dependable supporters- demanded a
firmer policy toward the Stalinists. Losonczy insisted that those responsible be brought
to [112/113] account and that the leadership of the Party be purified. He held that the
developments since October 23 were not a counter-revolution, but a movement in favor of
independence, even though there were reactionary elements involved in it. He voiced
indignation at seeing the Central Committee still peopled by Rakosi's creatures, by men
without talent, obtuse and limited, and by careerists without scruples and by inveterate
Stalinists who had only hatred for the new regime and who were concerned only with a means
of saving their own skins. Losonczy and Donath were not concerned with personal rivalries,
but with principles; they felt that it was impossible to restore order in the country by
means of this group and that any collaboration with them was doomed. They also saw in
these men a grave threat to Nagy's leadership.
Nagy did not ignore the fact that Losonczy and his other followers had reason on their
side. But he felt that it was still too early to act. It would be time enough, he thought,
when order was restored and when the question could be examined with a clear head. For the
moment, he felt, internal disputes would only be harmful to the Party, would destroy its
unity and paralyze its leadership. He would not listen to the arguments of Losonczy and
his friends: that it was essential at this juncture for him to break openly with the
Stalinists, both on the questions of principles and of personages. These men did not want
to be used as a screen by such leaders. And, since they were unable to convince Nagy, they
withdrew and left the Central Committee building. Thus Nagy lost his best friends, his
wisest counsellors, who had stayed at his side during his worst moments. . . . [113/151]
The first week of the Revolution had been a week of purity. Frequently, a rare and
precious article of merchandise had been left undisturbed behind broken store windows.
There were many [151/152] stories of such occurrences that were absolutely true. Although
Stalinist radio announcers spoke of "bandits" and "pillagers, " no one
touched the jewels and the watches in the wrecked windows of the shops. A placard that
read, "THIS IS HOW THE HUNGARIAN PEOPLE STEAL," was enough to protect them more
effectively than a cordon of police. There were other windows, emptied of their displays,
in which signs read: "INVENTORY: THE ARTICLES LISTED BELOW HAVE BEEN DEPOSITED WITh
THE CONCIERGE OF THIS BUILDING."
In the later days of the Revolution, however, many common-law criminals had been freed
from their cells, along with the political prisoners. Some of these were able to obtain
weapons. Armed robberies, pillaging, and other acts of violence multiplied. Most of the
insurgents still held their weapons. Many of these, with weapons in their hands, turned
their thoughts to the crimes of the past decade. In the absence of any real military
function for them to perform, they began looking for other work.
They began to hunt for members of the dissolved security service. These former AVH men
either took off their uniforms and donned civilian clothes, or else they removed their
insignia so they would look like ordinary police. They kept close to their homes, or hid
out in cellars. When one would be recognized on the street, it was the end. At one corner,
a hanged man dangled from a rope. He had been lynched by the mob. Suspended from his neck
was a placard that read: "So WILL END ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE AVH." In its issue
of November 3, the revolutionary daily Magyar Honved gave this description of a
lynching: "Already the slip-knot was tightening around the man's neck. His head fell
back and the cold November wind set his body swaying. Death was imminent. At this moment,
someone in the crowd called out: 'Quick! Let him down. He is not of the AVH. His name is
Kelemen and he lives in Kobanya. By good fortune, it was in time. Kelemen, still alive,
was taken to a hospital.
... There were other incidents in which the anger of the people was vented against
innocent victims who were accused in error. Members of the air force and of the
entertainment branch of the Honved were attacked by fanatics who took them for
members of the AVH because they, too, wore blue collars on their uniforms. Frequently,
there were 'people's [152/153] trials,' followed by lynchings in which the identities,
much less the activities, of the victims were never verified."
The most serious incident took place on the morning of the thirtieth, in Republic
Square. There, in front of the Erkel Theater, was the headquarters of the Greater Budapest
Federation of the Hungarian Workers' Party. On October 23, at the time of the first
demonstration, a detachment of the AVH, consisting of forty-five soldiers commanded by a
lieutenant and a sub-lieutenant, had taken up positions there. The soldiers were
twenty-one- or twenty-two-year-olds who had been trained in the AVH by order of the
recruiting boards. They were young recruits who had been drafted into the AVH without
their own consent and who had nothing in common with the torturers of that infamous
organization. No further orders having reached them, the detachment had remained in the
Party headquarters, not daring to venture into the streets, where the fever ran high.
On the morning of the thirtieth, a truck arrived, bringing meat for their mess. A short
distance away, housewives were lined up in a queue before a meat store that had little to
sell. Within seconds, word spread that the meat was destined for the AVH troops, and,
since there were many armed rebels in the area, the people in the queue spread this word
The insurgents streamed toward the door of the building housing the Party offices.
These doors were still guarded by the same police who had been stationed there before the
Revolution began. They asked whether it was true there were AVH men inside, and they tried
to force their way in. They got as far as the vestibule. Then they were forced back and
the doors were closed. The lieutenant of the AVH succeeded in capturing the leader of the
attackers and took him before Imre Mezo, secretary of the Budapest Party organization.
A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, then of the French Resistance, Mezo was one of the
Party's leaders who was possessed of great integrity. He had been opposed to the policies
of Rakosi, and that one, being afraid of him, had kept him in the background as much as
With Jozsef Kobol, he had been the only Party functionary who had dared to protest in
writing against the removal of Nagy from the Party leadership. He had distinguished
[153/154] himself among the revolutionaries by organizing that national memorial
celebration in honor of Rajk which had been a prelude to the rebellion.
That morning Mezo was negotiating with a delegation from the Ministry of Defense, with
a view toward organizing an armed workers' militia for the purpose of defending industrial
plants for the support of the Government. The delegation was headed by Colonels Asztalos
Mezo questioned the insurgent who had been brought before him and, in doing so, was
told that the building would probably soon again be attacked. He ordered the prisoner kept
All these factors -the AVH soldiers inside the building and the arrival of a truck
laden with meat, plus the arrival of the two high-ranking officers who were also taken for
AVH members and the arrest of one of the insurgents contributed to the rise of tempers.
The building was surrounded and again brought under attack.
The defenders returned the fire. The siege lasted three hours. Mezo and his friends
telephoned everywhere in search of aid. The telephone was working, but their appeals for
help were futile. Neither the Premier nor, for better reason, the Party had forces
available in that area capable of assuring the security of the building's occupants.
Finally, the Ministry of Defense sent three tanks to clear the area around the Party
building. They were to protect the withdrawal of the defenders, but the insurgents
surrounded the tanks and persuaded the tank crews to come over to their side. At this, the
two officers from the Ministry of Defense advised Mezo to cease fire, but the tank guns
were already aimed at the building.
The summing up was atrocious. The victorious insurgents and the mob in the square gave
no quarter. Foreign reporters who were present photographed the scenes of horror. The
young recruits of the AVH were beaten to death by their assailants. Imre Mezo, gravely
wounded, died later in a hospital. Colonel Asztalos was also killed. Colonel Papp, after
having been beaten and spat upon, was strung by his feet from a tree. Some soldiers poured
gasoline on him and set him afire. The paper Magyar Fuggetlenseg (meaning
"Hungarian Independence"), which had appeared during the [154/155] rebellion,
described in detail in its November 1 issue this "people's judgment." It gave
its approval, but not without remarking: "This was a spontaneous act by an
irresistible force. But, to be faithful to the truth, we must raise our voices against
those who stoked the fires of anarchy, who circulated slogans of fascist inspiration, who
incited the throng to press this fratricidal struggle, and who took delight in the
devastation and the destruction that resulted." . . . [155/218]
It is said that when a man is fatally sick, he frequently experiences a day of euphoria
a little before his death, when the functioning of his organs seems almost normal, giving
him the illusion that recovery is possible.
In the history of the Hungarian Revolution, that day was November 3.
In the morning, tens of thousands of people hastened toward their places of work. Not
all of them had to go by foot, because the streetcars had started to run along those lines
where the rails had not been torn up and where the wires were intact. To many, it was a
pleasure to be able to climb once again the steps of one of those yellow cars, and they
paid their fares almost cheerfully. Many factories had sent out trucks to fetch their
workers. The strike was almost over. If there were many who did not go back to work, it
was not because they were still on strike, but because it was Saturday, and it hardly
seemed worthwhile. By Monday, all the factories and offices would be running full-blast.
There was a bustle around the stations. The first commuter trains bringing workers from
the suburbs were running. The first train bringing medicines arrived at the East Station,
coming from the west. The big railroad yards at Miskolc announced that traffic had been
completely reestablished in its sector. Similar news came in from all corners of the
The stores also reopened their doors, the food stores among the first. Queues of
shoppers lengthened along the streets, waiting to buy bread and potatoes, and the
housewives could be sure that they would not have to return home empty-handed. There was
no threat of famine in the capital. in the espresso shops, there was already black coffee
to be had, and some were even able to serve patisserie. On the street corners,
chestnut-sellers offered those paper cones of warm nuts which were so welcome in the crisp
Since merchandise was in short supply, some speculation appeared. In one market, a
country woman offered eggs at three forints each, instead of the customary two forints.
Members of the militia took her basket of eggs from her and sold them for her quickly at
two forints, returning her empty basket and the money.
Professors and teachers went back to the schools. Classes would begin again on Monday.
The post office resumed deliveries of mail. Glaziers were kept busy; before anything else,
they had to replace the broken windows at the hospitals. Lock-smiths, barbers, cleaners,
and shoemakers were kept so busy that they hardly knew which way to turn. The bakers, who
had not stopped working through the rebellion (thus earning the esteem of the entire
country), were exhausted and looked forward to a day of rest on Sunday.
In the theaters, where Revolutionary Committees had been elected and where the programs
were more or less modified to remove the Rakosi taint, rehearsals were resumed.
Motion-picture cameramen, directed by a group of young producers, began filming in the
streets a documentary about the uprising.
Newspapers appeared on a normal schedule. Their content was less emotional in tone -and
more careful- than during the preceding days, as though their editors had suddenly become
more conscious of their responsibilities. Plans for new newspapers were discussed at the
press center on Lenin Boulevard. The Szechenyi Library, the country's largest, which was
seriously damaged in the fighting, published an appeal that was a touching sign of the
rebirth of confidence in the future. It asked the people to contribute documents on the
Revolution. It said: "The library will consider as confidential any material received
before the victory of the Revolution is definitive."
On the initiative of young university students, the Writers' [219/220] Association
started to collect money for the families of the martyrs of the Revolution. They placed
big green boxes on the most frequented spots in the capital. There was no guard at the
side of the boxes. And the forints accumulated there in higher and higher heaps.
In apartments and offices the telephones jangled ceaselessly. In these days the radio
was the pulse of the public life and the telephone the pulse of private life. Relatives
who were separated, friends whose flats were far from each other, and lovers on both sides
of the Danube kept contact by these telephone calls. "How are you?" "Is
there still any fighting in your quarter?" "Have you enough to eat?"
"Do you still love me?" Thousands of questions and answers were exchanged.
During the days of the heaviest fighting, most of the lines became silent; but on Saturday
they came alive again, burning and gay.
Automobiles from abroad, driven by journalists or members of the Red Cross, were
quickly surrounded wherever they stopped. Sometimes the foreigners offered the Hungarians
cigarettes from their country, or tins of sardines, or chocolate bars -items rare in the
diet of Budapest. Some people fought for these gifts; others drew away, insulted and
humiliated by such scenes.
What was it that filled the people with so much confidence and optimism, when they knew
that, never since 1945, had the Soviet threat to their country been so serious? It was a
hope which had been born in the days of combat and which now -surely after a victory- was
being reinforced. Hungary was not alone. The West, the United Nations, would not allow her
liberty, won at the cost of so much sacrifice, to be endangered. Every new radio
announcement heralding the shipments of medicines and food and funds from abroad served to
fortify this hope. So did every tin of meat or stick of chewing gum handed out in the
street. And so did every word of praise from the West. Rumors spread like wild-fire: an
airplane carrying sixteen officials of the United Nations to Budapest had landed at
Prague. The daily Valosag published an exclusive story: A young revolutionary,
driving a car, had arrived at the Austro-Hungarian frontier during Thursday night. He had
spoken with United Nations troops stationed all along the frontier. The soldiers had told
him that their units, composed of British and [220/ 221] American troops, had been put on
an alert status, though they would not cross the frontier until formally invited to do so
by Imre Nagy.
Neither story was true. But both were nonetheless characteristic of the state of mind
of the people. What was true was that the Security Council had placed the Hungarian
question on its agenda on Friday night. The people might have asked themselves why it was
not an emergency session of the General Assembly which was considering the question (as
was so with the Suez question), instead of the Security Council, in which the Russians had
the veto power. But the average Hungarian was ignorant of such subtleties. And if he were
indignant to learn that the Soviet delegate Sobolev had characterized the reports of the
arrival of new Soviet troops in Hungary as "unfounded," he was considerably
reassured to hear the radio announce in its broadcast on Saturday, at 5:30 a.m., that
Henry Cabot Lodge, the United States delegate, had
said firmly: "The United Nations cannot remain a passive spectator to the events
in Hungary." There were few who would suspect that this was only a pious hope and not
a statement of fact. And no reader of the Budapest papers was aware of this statement
which appeared in the New York Times that same day: "The big
Western powers appear to have decided to keep the Hungarian question to one side for the
moment, until such time as it becomes clear that the anti- Soviet rebellion has either
attained its objectives or has been checked."
Just as on the preceding days, the people were reassured by the knowledge that the
United Nations continued to interest itself in the Hungarian situation. If the debate was
adjourned until Saturday night, they reasoned, it was undoubtedly a sign of the West's
concern for the matter, and there were few who suspected it was a sign of weakness.
"The eyes of the entire world are upon us," was a phrase repeated at every
Budapest street corner. The implication was that they could not be robbed in broad
daylight of a cause that was under such close scrutiny.
But the principal reason for reassurance lay in the change that the people believed
they saw in the attitude of the Russians. They saw that the hopes inspired by Andropov the
evening before were [221/222] being confirmed. At mid day, a full Soviet military
delegation presented itself before the Parliament Building to begin negotiations with the
Hungarian delegation. They were given full military honors. The brilliantly bedecked
officers, headed by General Malinin who wore a green uniform, his breast covered with
decorations, climbed the steps on a thick red carpet. [222/225]
Never in the past ten years had a Hungarian Government enjoyed such a measure of
confidence among the people. Of this fact, there could be no doubt. Even though the
Government had not been formed as the result of free elections, it expressed the will of
the people far better than had its predecessors. Certain commentators, even in the Western
press, spoke of the Government's "drift to the right." Actually, if such
Stalinist personalties as Apro, Tausz, and Nyers -not to speak of Rakosi and Gero would be
regarded as of the "left," then, now that these were all gone, it was true that
the Government had drifted to the right. But the new Government really represented a
combination of various leanings, some more to the left, others more to the right
-although, regardless of this fact, neither the Government as a whole nor any of its
members had voiced the slightest criticism of the "socialist gains" or had
sought to make an issue of them. On the contrary, all those ministers who were regarded as
rightist had come out flatly in favor of those gains. As Anna Kethly had said at Vienna:
"The Hungary of tomorrow will be a socialist state. . . . We must be watchful so
that the results of the Revolution do not disappear, as was the case in 1919." It was
widely known that Istvan Bibo, a member of the Cabinet, shared the views of Laszlo Nemeth,
who had proposed:
"The parties in the coalition Government should publish a joint declaration
guaranteeing that they will respect certain broad principles of socialism. Industry should
continue to be directed by the State, and no property of an area greater than twenty-five
to forty holds [one hold = 1.38 acres] should be restored to its old owners. In addition,
worker participation in the management of factories and of small cooperatives should be
Such were the views of the political leaders of the "right" during the early
days of November. In reality, one would have to go back to October, 1918, and to the
Government of Mihaly Karolyi in order to find a Cabinet oriented so far to the left.
Order and public security had improved steadily as the National Guard became better
organized. The Revolutionary Committee for Maintenance of Order had decided to name
General Bela Kiraly as the commander of this militia, with Sandor Kopacsi, until then a
colonel in the police, as his adjutant. Mixed patrols circulated [225/226] through the
city. These consisted of militia members and policemen. They answered the most
insignificant calls and examined the papers of motorists and pedestrians at night,
disarming those who were unable to show membership in either the National Guard or the
police force. It could be said that order and security had been almost entirely
The last noteworthy demonstration occurred during Friday night at the offices of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A group of armed young men had surrounded the building and,
on the pretext that members of the AVH were hiding inside, begun searching the offices.
They found two locked rooms which could not be opened. The invaders tried to force the
locks by firing at them. Outside, their companions assumed that they were in danger and
opened fire on the building. Within, the others thought they were being attacked from
without, and so they returned the fire. Almost immediately leaders of the Revolutionary
Forces for Maintenance of Order arrived. These lined the rebels up in order to examine
their papers. The leader of the demonstrators wore the insignia of a lieutenant colonel,
but his papers showed he was only an army corporal. His "promotion" to the rank
of lieutenant colonel was signed by one Jozsef Dudas.
Dudas, commander of an insurgent unit of considerable strength, was one of the most
enigmatic and troubling figures of the Revolution. Some foreign correspondents who
encountered him considered him one of the heroes of the rebellion; others saw him as a
fascist adventurer. He had begun his career in the workers' movement in Transylvania and
had been a member of the Communist Party, from which he had later been expelled. In 1944,
he was a member of a delegation which had been sent to Moscow by the Horthy Government to
sound out the possibilities of an armistice. After the war he had been elected to the
municipal council in Budapest as a representative of the Smallholders Party. At the end of
1946, he had been arrested by Rakosi's men under suspicion of participating in a
counter-revolutionary plot. He had been turned over to the Rumanian authorities
(Transylvania being, by that time, under Rumanian control). The Rumanians had kept him in
prison for seven years. Freed in 1954, he had returned to Budapest and earned his living
as a factory worker. [226/227]
In the course of the uprising, Dudas had succeeded in grouping about himself several
hundred armed insurgents. They occupied the offices of Szabad Nep, published a
daily, the Magyar Fuggetlenseg, and founded a "National Hungarian
Revolutionary Committee," with himself at its head. During the rebellion, in company
with other leaders of insurgent groups, he had been received once by Imre Nagy. At first,
he had refused to recognize the Government and had kept presenting ever-changing lists of
demands. Later, in the name of national unity, he had set himself up in opposition to all
party rivalry and had declared that he would oppose all attempts to restore
"Stalinism, capitalism, or monarchism." It is difficult to assess his program
clearly. One day he would demand United Nations intervention in Hungary and the next he
would not only reject such a proposal but voice indignant opposition to it. On October 31,
for instance, his newspaper had said: "We want no one from the outside world to come
here in place of the Russians. We no longer welcome foreigners to our country, because,
once they are here, it is too difficult to get them to leave."
Dudas had told a Polish journalist that his program was "national, revolutionary,
democratic, and socialist." He said that he had entered into direct contact with
Moscow in order to "resolve the situation." In reality, his sole contact with
Moscow was by way of Szabad Nep's correspondent in the Soviet capital -a
correspondent who, unaware that his newspaper had been seized, had telephoned for
information on the situation and had been put through to Dudas. The rebel leader had
immediately told this correspondent, in a firm voice, to go to Khrushchev and Bulganin and
to present them with his demands.
Those who had contact with Dudas were of the opinion that he was not a man of ill will.
In him was combined a sincere desire for freedom with a strong personal ambition, plus a
kind of political liberalism with an individual aggressiveness. He was willing to listen
to the opinions of others, but, at the same time, he nursed some abortive Napoleonic
tendencies. The chances are that, in giving the order to attack the Foreign Ministry,
Dudas had not been looking for members of the AVH but that, instead, he had wanted to
install his headquarters there and thus to gain for himself a hand in the supreme
direction of the country's affairs. [227/228]
But, by this time, Nagy felt strong enough to deal with such adventurers. Irresponsible
gunfire, attacks on public buildings, and individual action were no longer to be
tolerated. Nagy issued an order for Dudas' arrest, and the order was executed promptly,
providing a convincing demonstration of the Government's strength.(3)
There was another development which was indicative of the Government's consolidation of
power. The Government had called on former members of the AVH' to make their identity
known, promising that those who were guilty of no brutality would be freed as soon as
their cases were examined. The registering of AVH men got under way in perfect order. Men
who, two days earlier, had fled for their lives and were hunted through the streets were
now unmolested. Confident that the authorities would protect them, they arrived in such
numbers on Saturday that most of them were asked to return home and to come back the
The organization of the new Communist Party also progressed without incident. The new
Party Organ, Nepszabadsag, was sold freely in the same streets where copies of Szabad
Nep had been burned a few days earlier. On Saturday, the paper's editorial included
these lines: We will no longer be a Party of a million members. We will operate in a more
modest framework, with limited resources. Those who wish to join the Party must understand
that their membership will bring them neither an important post nor an elevated position.
In short, it will bring them no advantage that would distinguish them from other people.
Daily tasks, arduous and devoid of any gratitude, will be their lot. We face a harsh and
laborious future, inconspicuous, without honor, without any false supremacy guaranteed by
bayonets. We have lost much, but we have regained the honor of socialism."
1. It is characteristic that the various publications of the Kadar
Government, which showed little sympathy for Nagy and which were not always squeamish in
the choice of ways to compromise him, never went so far as openly to charge him with
responsibility for calling on the help of Soviet troops. According to the third volume of
that Government's White Book, Nagy "approved" this step. According to
Nepszabadsag (May 17, 1958), Nagy had made "no remark against this
proposal." The same source states that Nagy did not accept the post of Premier until
the early hours of the dawn, when the Soviet troops were already in action.
2. This is precisely what Nagy is reproached for today by the Radar
Government in its press and publications. In Volume III of the White Book, one
can read: "In the first days of the Revolution certain things were incomprehensible
to the masses. They did not understand why they were not called into combat against the
rioting counter-revolutionaries, nor why martial law was proclaimed only on paper ... To
that extent, Premier Imre Nagy had impeded the severity of military justice ... He gave
instructions for the liberation of men taken with arms in their hands."
3. Though Dudas was soon released, he was again arrested by Kadar's
militia and executed in January, 1957. 
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