The Hungarian Revolt of 1956 - Peter Pallai

An account of the events of the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 from one of the participants, Peter Pallai who was a student demonstrator.

Submitted by Reddebrek on September 30, 2018


Transcript of the video

Program Moderator:
Next to the fallout from the division of Europe which followed the Second World
War. As Winston Churchill put it in a speech from 1946, `an Iron Curtain
descended across the continent, from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the
Adriatic`. The consequence was that those on the west of that Iron Curtain
after 1949 were generally under implied American protection as part of NATO, but
those on the east came under the strict influence of Moscow, and not always
willingly. For example 60 years ago, students and workers took to the streets
of Budapest to protest at Soviet rule in Hungary. The demonstrations turned
violent and for awhile the Revolutionaries were in control.

In 2010 Ed Butler spoke to one of the rebels Peter Pallai,
who was a first year student at university when he joined in the street
protests in Budapest in October 1956.

Peter Pallai:
All we wanted was that we should have a more humane treatment, we should have a
more liveable society, that socialism should actually live up to its name. So
we were going to march and a lot of people spontaneously started joining from
the sidewalks, people looked out of office windows, some of them hung out
Hungarian flags. And workers started pouring into the centre and joining us. So
what started out with a few hundred students soon turned into a fantastic mass

It’s very hard to estimate how many people poured out onto
the streets, probably half a million.


People started shouting various slogans, and one that sticks
in my mind which the first time it sounded a bit risky but we all took it up,
it went, probably the best English translation that `soldiers of all lands go
back to your homelands.` And as the evening wore out somebody started shouting
Russkies go home, Russians go home. And I had absolutely no premonition of the
fighting to come.


At that moment, a couple of people came on motorcycles in a
terribly agitated manner. They were shouting, screaming that the Security
police is shooting at unarmed people at the radio station. And we ran into the
street were the radio building was, and we actually came under fire, and it was
a terrible shock. Next to me a fourteen year old girl was just cut down by
bullets, and I was very lucky not to be shot. I saw absolutely no weapons on
our side from anyone. Suddenly people had the idea that there was a large
barracks building on that same boulevard. To go there and get the army people
to give their weapons.

The crowd broke down the door and as the doors broke down we
saw a line of soldiers with bayonets fixed and a Lieutenant in command. And the
Lieutenant started shouting at us that he would order the soldiers to fire if
we proceed any further. Even if we wanted to back down we couldn’t because of
the pressure of the people behind us. We started shouting at the soldiers that
`you’re not going to shoot your own kind are you?` and the soldiers didn’t,
they just pushed this officer aside and we suddenly streamed into this
building. So we were given ammunition and armed with rifles and ammunition, at
the radio building the battle was fantastic. But by that time our side was
armed it had turned out that workers came from another suburb, from an
industrial suburb and they broke into factories were not just ammunition but
weapons were made and they armed the rebels and they were armed themselves, and
they were storming the radio.


Ed Butler:
After just five days of popular revolt the Soviet troops stationed in the
capital pulled out. A reformist Communist Imre Nagy was installed as the
country’s new President, pledging the end to Moscow’s control. For a few days
it seemed as though the revolution had won, and for Peter Pallai a dream had
been realised.

Peter Pallai:
I mean we went from a demonstration where no one thought that it would be any
fighting, then it turned into a terrible struggle which ended or seemed to have
ended with a miracle. And we thought that finally this little country which was
squeezed between Germany and Russia and the Turks and all the great powers,
finally finally we can determine our own fate.

Ed Butler:
What happened then?

Peter Pallai:
On the 3rd of November, which was a Saturday, we heard news that a
Hungarian delegation made up of party people, all parties and of Hungarian
rebel forces went to talk to the Russians, how they shall be withdrawing, and
how the Hungarian rebel forces will not fire on Russian troops. And I remember
that very relieved I went home to sleep, to my parents.

I took my weapons with me and next morning I woke up and
heard gunfire, and we switched on the radio and we heard the Premier Imre Nagy
saying that the Soviet troops had attacked unexpectedly and he was asking for
help from the West.

[Extract from Imre Nagy’s radio speech]

This is the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy speaking. At
dawn Soviet troops attacked our country, in order to overthrow the legitimate
Hungarian Democratic government.


Ed Butler:
On the streets of Budapest civilian fighters armed with nothing more than
rifles tried to stand up to the might of the Soviet tanks and artillery, it was
an uneven contest, and Hungary’s cries for help became increasingly desperate.

[Hungarian radio broadcast in English]

This is Hungary calling, this is Hungary calling, the last
remaining station, we are requesting you to send us immediate aid in the form
of parachute troops over the trans-Danubian provinces. For the sake of God and
Freedom help Hungary.

Peter Pallai:
They had overwhelming strength, I did realise that it is all lost and I didn’t
want to go back to fighting because I knew that it would be just senseless to
lay down my life. It was terrible, we couldn’t quite believe that the world would
just sit back and do nothing about this.

Ed Butler:
So what happened to you, once the Soviets regained control of the city?

Peter Pallai:

Well, my friends and myself, we were manufacturing various leaflets which we
stuck up on various parts of the town. And when I was walking home my dad was
waiting for me on the corner, and dad said to me, don’t come home because
they’ve been looking for you. Dad handed me a briefcase, in that briefcase was
a bottle of plum brandy, my pyjamas a toothbrush, five thousand forints. And he
said mother sends her love, go, don’t come back.

He said that we go Northwest, and there’s a huge barracks
building, used to be manned by the Hungarian border guard, now filled by
Russians which is practically straddling the border. He said there’s a regular
search light going round, its predictable how its circling, and we should try
to go as near as we dare to the Russian sentry, because there’s a North wind
that evening and if we approach them from the South their voices will be carried
to us, but we have to crawl.

I don’t know how long it took, I was scared out of my wits,
there were three of us and we crawled for god knows how long. And when we left
the Russian voices behind we stood up and started walking, and I did something
very melodramatic, something which I must have read in books but it came to
from the heart. On the last piece of Hungarian ground, I just kneeled down and
kissed the land, kissed the ground because I thought that I’ll never see my
parents again, I’ll never see my friends again, I never see my country

And that was to be the fact for 28 years actually. It was a
feeling of broken hopes, it was a feeling of betrayal, it was a feeling of
there’s no justice in the world, the pointlessness of politics, the pointlessness
of doing anything. And the Russians can do anything they want to us.

Ed Butler:
Peter Pallai was among some 200,000 Hungarians who fled the country, he moved
to London becoming a journalist and worked at the BBC World Service. Thousands
of others died in the fighting or they were executed in the crackdown that
followed, among them Imre Nagy the President. It was to be another 33 years
before Soviet backed Communist rule was finally ended in Hungary.