“The 1956 Hungarian Revolution As Seen Through The Eyes Of An Eight Year Old”

On October 23,1956, it was an overcast and dreary afternoon in Budapest. I was eight and my little sister Andrea was five. We lived at Rakoczi Ut. 40 in a large building across the street from Corvin, a huge Hungarian department store located approximately in the center of Pest. The famous Hungarian National Theatre House was off to the left of us.  As a young child I used to take lots of walks in the neighborhood with my Father Apatini Gyula and the family. That whole part of my life seems to have been gray with no color in it. Imagine the difference between black and white movies as opposed to color motion pictures. For me, that changed at a later point in my life when my immediate family was able to escape from Hungary and arrive in beautiful Rome Italy. That is when color entered my life. All my memories before Rome (Italy) were in black and white. That unique afternoon my sister and I were out on the balcony of our large apartment house. On the street below us there was a very large crowd gathering and having what sounded like a huge loud party. They were shouting all kinds of slogans like (Ruszkik Haza) (Rabok Legyunk Vagy Szabadok) which means (Russians Go Home. Be Slaves or be Free,) and singing songs about freedom. I can remember enjoying myself so much that I never wanted to leave our spacious balcony. From the perspective of an eight and a five year old child, this was a heavenly experience. As kids we had no idea of the severity of what was to follow. As usual my parents were working that day; therefore my Grandmother took care of us on week days. We come from a rare breed of Grandma-raised children. It was a late afternoon that day when my Grandmother came to tell us that we had to go inside, eat, and get ready for bedtime. We both pleaded with her to let us stay a little longer because we were having so much fun and excitement listening to everyone having such a great time. She said, “You two must go inside at once”. I gather she had a sense of the danger that was ahead. After dinner around nightfall, as we were both being put to bed, we heard very peculiar sounds like fire crackers going off at a distance. We had no understanding of how serious things were actually getting. What started out to be a fun party in front of our home was actually the beginning of the 1956 Hungarian Revolt. What was going on was that the (AVO) Hungarian Communist Secret Police were firing bullets at young Hungarian college students and other peaceful demonstrators killing many of them. This was taking place in front of the Hungarian Radio Building. The horrible event caused a full blown revolt of the freedom loving Hungarian people which caused them to rise and get hold of weapons to go and fight the Soviet placed Puppet Hungarian Communist government. This was the very beginning of the end of Communism which finally ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  As young kids at that time we really did not understand the significance of what was happening. It seemed like an exciting adventure to us. All we knew was that from that point in time our Mom and Dad were both home with us and together as a family we listened to the Radio. To top that off the next day we started making trips down to our big basement joining with other neighbors all of us bringing food and goods. It was so much fun for us kids because we did not realize that our families were actually seeking shelter from the Soviet Tanks, Troops and artillery. Everyone was smoking cigarettes to keep themselves calm not knowing how bad it was at the time. Having no television, we were only able to get the news from listening to different Hungarian Radio Stations.

For the next few days we heard how the freedom fighters were gaining ground on the Communist spawned enemy, in fact they proclaimed to have completely won their freedom while loosing many precious lives on the way. Then came beautiful, short spurts of shouts “We’ve won our Freedom at last” Everyone was so happy not knowing that disaster was lurking just around the corner. Then came the dreadful day of November 4th when Two Hundred Thousand Communist Russian Troops with tanks and heavy artillery swarmed the country crushing the young Hungarian Freedom fighters and killing over 25 thousand of them. Our whole family was down in the basement and I can clearly remember hearing the very scary loud sounds of Russian tanks pulling up in front of our building turning their thick gun muzzles to face us. They fired numerous times hitting and practically destroying our apartment.  One day some time later my Father took me up to the apartment. It was a very dangerous act as I found out later. But the sight was so amazing that it was worth every minute. What I saw was a huge hole made by a tank in our big and very thick bedroom wall. The floor of the room was cracked in half causing it to rise up at about a 45 degree angle. Through the big hole in our bedroom wall I could see that the building next to us was no longer there. It had collapsed from the heavy Soviet tank artillery. I will never forget it.  I can also clearly remember that a bomb got lodged inside the wall of our living room but it did not go off. My Grandpa had called the bomb squad to have it removed, but they were afraid to touch it because it was way too dangerous. My very brave Grandfather, who was a famous doctor in Budapest at that time, had the guts to go and remove the bomb with his bare hands. Not only that, he brought it down to the basement boasting about how the bomb squad was afraid to touch it and how he removed it with his hands using his doctor’s utensils. I recall it so clearly because it looked like a miniaturized rocket. For me this was the ultimately exciting experience as a little boy. In my eyes my Grandpa was the biggest hero of all time!

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As The Russian Troops were gunning down our freedom fighters, the Hungarian people pleaded, through Radio Free Europe, for the outside world to please come help us: Soviet Troops are slaughtering our people. There was no reply from the West. Some of the countries bordering Hungary wanted to help but the Western powers did not allow it. They were afraid to take their concentration off the Suez Canal Crisis which was happening coincidentally.

The suffering of the Hungarian People and their deaths were totally ignored by the Western Powers. After exchanging communications with some Russian Troops we found out that some of these troops thought they were at the Suez Canal fighting the West. In response many of them turned against there own and joined forces with the Brave Hungarian Freedom fighters whom they had liberated from the Nazi’s at the end of World War II.
There were times when one was able to see the shattered, broken, shot up streets of Budapest and to witness Hungarian freedom fighters with Hungarian flags in their hands riding on top of these Soviet Tanks shouting slogans of freedom. Constantly there was enemy fire coming from the AVO who were hidden in buildings all over Budapest. They killed many of these hero’s. As for the enemy Soviet Troops, most of the time the people fought them with their bare hands and home made Molotov Cocktails.
This event changed the world, and for which so many Freedom loving Hungarians sacrificed their lives. But it was not in vain. We realize this today.  My immediate family felt that they had to escape this hell which held no future for anyone. My Father and Mother took me and my sister to the border by train while it was still possible to do so. For about a 20 kilometer stretch we had to sneak through the woods in the night in cold winter snows. Occasionally we stopped to rest and tried to catch some warmth from hay stacks in the farm lands. We had to keep completely quiet, and for young, crying, cold children this was very difficult. My Uncle and Aunt and their two younger children came with us. I will never forget that when we looked up at the dark night skies there were red fire works of bullets above our heads. We were completely surrounded by danger. In a flash, we all could have been killed.  I believe I could probably write a book about that 20 kilometer journey. There were so many incidents, but to make a long story short, with a lot of difficulty we made it and we got to the Austrian border and crossed it. This took place just in time because they were putting land mines into the ground all over the place. Later on we heard many stories of other families being blown to bits by this these mines. From the border we were taken to Vienna where we stayed for about three weeks. While there we tried to obtain visa’s to go to the US without any success.
During our stay in Vienna we were told that there were some bus loads leaving to go across the Alps to Italy. Our two families decided to try to get on the buses. It was the smartest decision my family ever made.
On the dawn of a beautiful sunny morning we arrived in Rome. After what all our families had been through one can imagine what effect it had on us and on me in particular. As a child of eight it simply brought color into my life .The two and a half years my family and I spent in Rome were the most amazing part of my youth.  The 1956 Hungarian Revolution brought this about and changed my world and everyone’s world. If the Hungarian Revolution had not taken place, our history books would be different and we possible would not be here today. The balance of power would be spread another way.