Hungarian popular uprising

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Memorial stone with flame in front of the parliament
Monument in honor of the Pesti srácok who fought at Corvin köz as young people . In the Corvin Mozi cinema in the background, a film was shown on October 23, 2006 - 50 years later - that told the story of that time (see poster).
Memorial plaque at the ETH Zurich
Memorial plaque for the Hungarian refugees at the University of Basel
Memorial plaque at the University of Zurich , auditorium, inauguration 2006
Thanks to the Hungarian refugees for welcoming Bishop Hasz to Switzerland

The Hungarian People's Uprising ( better known in Hungary as 56-os forradalom or, more rarely, októberi forradalom ["Revolution of 56" or "October Revolution"]) describes the bourgeois-democratic revolution ( Hungarian forradalom ) and the fight for freedom (Hungarian szabadságharc ) of 1956 in the People's Republic of Hungary , in which broad social forces rose up against the government of the Communist Party and the Soviet occupying power.

The revolution began on 23 October 1956 with a peaceful mass demonstration of students at the universities in Budapest , the democratic demanded changes. The government fired at the rapidly growing crowd that evening, after which armed struggle broke out. Within a few days, the one-party dictatorship was replaced by a government led by Imre Nagy , in which the Farmers 'Party and the Small Farmers' Party also received ministries. This government reformed twice more within eight days and also involved the Social Democratic Party. Hungary withdrew from the Warsaw Pact , declared its neutrality and called on the Soviet Army to leave the country.

The struggle for freedom ended with the invasion of the overpowering Soviet army, reinforced by the invasion, which installed a pro-Soviet government under János Kádár on November 4, 1956 . The fighting against them lasted a week in Budapest, several weeks in some places, and in the mountains even until the beginning of 1957. The West gave the insurgents verbal support, but NATO refrained from a military confrontation with the Eastern Bloc . After the suppression of the struggle for freedom, hundreds of insurgents - including Imre Nagy and Pál Maléter  - were executed by the communist rulers, tens of thousands were imprisoned or interned. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians fled to the West from the dictatorship. The Kádár regime always referred to the uprising as a " counterrevolution ", and public naming it as a revolution was punished. October 23rd has been a national holiday in Hungary since 1989 .


After the occupation of Hungary and the expulsion of the fascists there and the national-socialist occupation by the Red Army in 1945, a democratic people's movement arose, supported by the communists. The Communists became a major political force and participated with two ministers in the Provisional National Government, which also included three Social Democrats, two Ministers from the Small Farmers ' Party and one minister from the Peasant Party. In addition, three former soldiers and one nobleman were given ministerial posts. The most important posts were in the hands of the left parties, while the other parties received relatively insignificant ones. The foreign minister, for example, was irrelevant, since all foreign relations had to go through the Allied Control Commission, which was dominated by the Soviet Union.

Since at that time more than half of Hungarians lived from agriculture, one of the first projects in 1945 was the implementation of a land reform through which large landowners were expropriated and small farmers were given their own land. The large landowners also lost political power as a result. The communist agriculture minister, Imre Nagy, was responsible for the land reform .

Since Hungary was occupied by Soviet troops and the Soviets led the Allied Control Commission, while two political camps emerged internationally , Hungary came more and more into the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the parliamentary elections on November 4, 1945 , the Small Farmers' Party received 57% of the vote, the Communists only 17%. Under pressure from the Soviets, the communists were nevertheless involved in the new coalition government and provided four out of 18 ministers. The Soviet troops remained in the country even after the peace treaty of February 10, 1947; on the grounds of maintaining contact with the troops stationed in Austria .

The left-wing bloc, formed in March 1946, made up of communists and social democrats, members of the National Farmers 'Party and trade unionists joined forces against the Small Farmers' Party. The communists took over more and more power in the state by using the “ salami tactics ”, the slice-by-slice reduction of the democratic system. They secured decisive influence in the interior ministry and the security organs . Alleged and actual political opponents were intimidated and eliminated by the political police. The exposure of alleged conspiracies led to political cleansing and the elimination of the right wing of the Small Farmers Party. Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy resigned on May 30, 1947 . He was succeeded by Lajos Dinnyés from the left wing of the party.

In the new parliamentary elections on August 31, 1947 , which were already under intimidation , the left bloc received 61%. The popular front government formed by the left bloc pursued a communist program, although the communists only had 22% of the vote. The government nationalized banks, mines, heavy industry, and all industries with more than 100 employees.

On June 12, 1948, the Communist Party was united with the Social Democratic Party to form Magyar Dolgozók Pártja (MDP, German Party of the Hungarian Working People ). The opposition parties in parliament disappeared due to the emigration of their leaders and the dismissal of mandates.

Stalinist rule under Mátyás Rákosi

The MDP concentrated on expanding the communist power apparatus. In the election for the National Assembly in May 1949, the unified list achieved 95.6% yes-votes. On August 20, 1949, a new constitution came into force based on the Soviet constitution of 1936. Hungary became a workers and peasants state ; the separation of powers was abolished and a 21-member presidential council was introduced as a collective head of state , who had powers between parliamentary sessions.

The by Matyas Rakosi out forming personality cult was based on the Stalinist theory of the permanent intensification of national and international class struggle . All power in the state and in the party was in Rákosi's hands, who also described himself as the best student of Stalin . The personality cult led to an atmosphere of terror through the State Security Agency. A large number of show trials against alleged political opponents took place. Communist party members and members of the government also fell victim to these processes, such as the former Foreign Minister László Rajk, who was executed in 1949 . The later party leader János Kádár was also one of the prisoners . In total, proceedings were initiated against more than a million people, around ten percent of the population. Many people were sent to camps without charge or trial and were forced to do hard labor.

Memorial to the victims of the 1956 Hungarian uprising at the parish church of St. Francis of Assisi in Budapest. Translated inscription: OUR NAMELESS HEROES OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE AND THE REVOLUTION OF 1956 AND IN MEMORY OF THE INNOCENT VICTIMS.

With the early fulfillment of the three-year plan, Hungary's infrastructure , which had been destroyed in the Second World War , was officially restored. However, the economic practices of the Soviet Union were mechanically adopted in the plan: investments were primarily made in heavy industry. This was also justified with the intensification of the class struggle and the fear of a new war based on it. The needs of agriculture and the standard of living of the population were not taken into account. In agriculture, forced collectivization reduced yields, so that Hungary, as a former agricultural export country, even had to import food.

Due to the Soviet occupation, Hungary was both politically and - mediated by the party leadership, which was strictly loyal to Moscow - economically in complete dependence on the Soviet Union. Even after the peace treaty was concluded, every foreign policy decision required the approval of the Soviet Union. It was an open secret that the Hungarian economy had to primarily serve the interests of the Soviet Union.

Reforms under Imre Nagy, restoration, internal party opposition, the Poznan uprising

After Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, Nikita Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union . As part of the anti-Stalinist purges, Rákosi also had to give up part of his power. On July 4, 1953, the former Minister of Agriculture Imre Nagy became the new Prime Minister. Rákosi remained party leader.

Imre Nagy clearly distanced himself from the politics of his predecessor. Instead of expanding heavy industry, Nagy promoted agriculture and the consumer goods industry. Farmers were allowed to leave the agricultural production cooperatives. The standard of living rose. Many victims of Rákosi's personality cult have been rehabilitated, even if only tacitly and without compensation. He suspended the gulag lists and the Hungarian labor camps themselves and released 750,000 people from their guilt, including János Kádár . He also initiated an investigation into the political show trials of László Rajk in 1949.

Within the party, the dogmatic group around Rákosi tried to undermine the reform policy. Imre Nagy lost this power struggle and was deposed in April 1955 and expelled from the party a few months later. A restoration phase followed. In February 1956, the Soviet party leader Nikita Khrushchev held on the XX. Party congress of the CPSU his secret speech on the personality cult and its consequences with sharp criticism of the Stalinist crimes. In Hungary, therefore, calls arose in the party to review the party line and punish the guilty. The party chairmanship went from Matyás Rákosi to his deputy Ernő Gerő , who was hardly more popular than Rákosi. The discontent, especially among intellectuals, could not be dealt with.

In the course of autumn, discussion forums based on the model of the Petöfi Circle, a discussion group of young writers who from the beginning of 1956 increasingly devoted themselves to political issues, were set up in almost all university towns. The student protest then emerged from these internal party discussion groups.

The widow of the former minister László Rajk, who was executed under Rákosi, together with the party opposition, demanded the reburial of her husband and the rehabilitation of the communists among the victims of the Rákosi system. The government finally gave in. László Rajk was reburied on October 6, 1956 . Hundreds of thousands took part in the funeral march, setting a clear political signal.

Students demanded the autonomy of their organizations. In the city of Szeged, the former independent university association MEFESZ was founded on October 16 .

In Poland , after the workers 'uprising in Poznan in June 1956, the popular Władysław Gomułka, who was ousted from the party leadership in 1949 and then imprisoned for three years , against the will of the Soviet leadership, became the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PVAP) on October 21, 1956. elected. Negotiations with the visiting Soviet leaders were able to dissuade them from a military intervention in Poland. In return, Gomułka promised to maintain Poland's close ties to the Soviet Union. Gomułka's speech at the party was published in the Hungarian party newspaper Szabad Nép . The inner-party opposition in Hungary hoped for a similar outcome to the crisis in Hungary.

The students went further in their demands than the party opposition. Following the revolution of 1848 , students from the Budapest University of Technology (today: Budapest University of Technology and Economics ) wrote a declaration on October 22, in which they called for civil liberties and parliamentarism as well as national independence.

In order to make their catalog of demands, which contained between 10 and 16 points in different versions, better known, elected representatives brought it to other universities, to companies and to local and central authorities and institutions. After the Hungarian Radio refused to announce the demands, the students called for a demonstration on October 23rd to show their solidarity with the reformers in Poland and to underline their own demands.

In the course of this mass demonstration, the Hungarian people's uprising began.

The situation in the Soviet Union in 1956

On February 25, 1956, Khrushchev criticized the personality cult surrounding Stalin and Stalin's crimes in a "secret speech" at the 20th party congress of the CPSU . The Soviet leadership subsequently ushered in a fundamental turnaround in social and economic policy that became known as de-Stalinization . The thaw period developed : domestic and foreign policy eased somewhat. Khrushchev had numerous prison camps ( gulag ) closed and innocent prisoners released. Whole sections of the population were rehabilitated. De-Stalinization also set political developments in motion that worried parts of the Soviet leadership. The increasing liberalization in some Eastern Bloc countries caused structural conservatives in the Soviet leadership to worry that de-Stalinization could 'get out of control'.

International location

International politics these days were shaped by the Suez crisis . Great Britain and France, together with Israel, prepared to occupy the Suez Canal. On October 24, the three states signed a secret agreement - the preparations were also kept secret from the USA. On the 29th, Israel began an advance; Britain and France began bombing Egyptian airports on October 31st.

In order to avoid an escalation of the conflict, Washington decided to strive for a uniting-for-peace resolution with the Soviet Union (it transfers the decision on the resolution to the General Assembly of the UN without the possibility of veto by the permanent members). On November 2, 1956, the UN demanded only Israel to cease fighting and withdraw beyond the armistice line, and on November 4, the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force.

On November 5th - one day after the start of its invasion of Hungary - the Soviet Union threatened France and Great Britain with the use of force to destroy the aggressors and restore peace in the Middle East . Party leader Khrushchev even spoke of the - militarily unrealizable - destruction of the western capitals with nuclear weapons. The Soviet Prime Minister Bulganin issued the warning to Israel : “As the executor of a foreign will and on behalf of others, the government of Israel is playing a criminal and irresponsible game with the fate of the world, with the fate of its own people. It sows a hatred among the peoples of the east that must affect the future of Israel and call its state existence into question ... We expect the government of Israel to change its mind before it is too late and its military operations against Egypt. ”At the same time she called her ambassador from Tel Aviv.

The next day, Great Britain, France and Israel stopped fighting. On December 22, 1956, the theater of war was cleared again; on March 7, 1957, the last Israeli soldiers left Egyptian territory. The UN General Assembly had previously repeated the demand for troop withdrawal on November 24, 1956, January 19, 1957 and February 2, 1957.

The fact that Great Britain and France tried to force Egypt to return the Suez Canal through military aggression and to overthrow its regime, while at the same time the Red Army put down the Hungarian popular uprising, put the three attacking countries on the same late-imperialist level in public perception. The up to then "final development of imperial machismo" sparked outrage and criticism worldwide.

It can be said that the Suez Crisis and its temporal course came in extremely handy for the Soviet Union: UN diplomacy was very busy during the Suez Crisis; it received a lot of public and media attention.


The actual popular uprising lasted from October 23 to November 4, when the Soviet army marched in with superior forces and installed a government loyal to Moscow. By November 16, she had practically the entire country under her control. But the time after that was also riddled with persecution and suppression of the last resisting groups.

Beginning - October 23

The students of the Technical University of Budapest were allowed to demonstrate in solidarity with the Polish workers' uprising on October 23 . Two days earlier, the Polish CP had elected Władysław Gomułka as head of the CP against the will of the Soviet CP , although Khrushchev and numerous generals had come to Warsaw for an unannounced visit two days earlier and had put massive pressure on the Polish CP.

With this demonstration, the students wanted to express further political interests. They hit the nerve of the Hungarians, who joined the march in their thousands. The procession ended at Josef-Bem-Platz on the Buda side of the Danube , where the students' demands were read out. Although almost no amplifiers were used, more and more people flocked to this mass rally.

Some of the demonstrators moved on to parliament, most of them to the radio building on the Pest side of the Danube. There they wanted to spread their demands on the state broadcaster. However, fire was opened on the demonstrators from the radio building. Hungarian soldiers gave the demonstrators weapons so that they could defend themselves; they stormed the building.

Monument in Szobor Park (near Budapest), 2007

In the evening, around 200,000 people gathered in front of parliament and demanded freedom of expression and the press , free elections , more independence from the Soviet Union and the appointment of the reform-oriented communist Imre Nagy as head of government. Nagy, who asked the demonstrators to go home, was surprisingly appointed Prime Minister by the Central Committee of the Hungarian Working People's Party that same night . Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had started to intervene militarily even before party leader Ernő Gerő had requested it. However, on the evening of the same day he gave orders of his own accord to open fire on the “unarmed masses”, although a few hours earlier he had promised the opposite. "Nobody counted the dead that evening."

In the course of the evening, demonstrators overturned the Stalin monument on Felvonulási tér by the city park and pulled it in front of the parliament building. According to a legend, the rebellious students and pupils had decided that the boots of the statue of Stalin should remain because they came from Hungary. Therefore, the statue was cut off above the knees with a welding machine. Practical considerations are more likely. It was later smashed.

From October 24th to November 4th

From October 24, the uprising spread to other cities. Workers', revolutionary and national councils emerged. A nationwide general strike began. The first independent newspapers appeared.

On October 25, the first party secretary, Ernő Gerő, was recalled and replaced by János Kádár . There was shooting in front of the parliament building. Whether the shooters were members of the dreaded state security service ÁVH , the Red Army or others could never be fully clarified. More than 100 people died in this incident.

On October 27, Imre Nagy announced his new government and the dissolution of the ÁVH, the following day the recognition of the revolution.

On October 30th, Nagy announced the end of one-party rule and formed a multi-party government. The Soviet Union initially apparently agreed to negotiate a withdrawal, but was already preparing an attack (the Soviet ambassador in Budapest was Yuri Andropov , who later became head of the KGB and general secretary of the CPSU). On the same day, one of the most famous critics of the regime, the Hungarian Cardinal József Mindszenty , was released from prison. It came to lynching of intelligence agents and party officials.

After Nagy declared Hungary's neutrality on November 1st and the country withdrew from the Warsaw Pact , the troops of the Soviet Union began to suppress the popular uprising and occupied a.o. a. the parliament building . Armed groups resumed resistance.

After this "dismissal" of Nagy's last coalition government, the following cabinet was constituted on November 4th in Szolnok , which called itself the "Hungarian Revolutionary Workers 'and Peasants' Government":

4th to 15th November

From November 4th to 15th, fierce fighting raged in the country, especially in the capital Budapest . The civilian population took up arms for the government, but suffered from a lack of ammunition and were hopelessly inferior to the Soviet armed forces in terms of manpower and material, so that defeat was predetermined. The fighting claimed around 2,500 dead on the Hungarian side, the Soviet troops claimed to have lost 720 men. Individual estimates assume higher numbers.

Before and during the uprising, the insurgents were promised military support by the West via Radio Free Europe , but according to US government documents this was never intended. Nevertheless, this spurred the insurgents on to further resistance. The Suez Crisis , which took place at the same time, and the ensuing resentment between France / Great Britain and the USA also prevented a uniform reaction from the Western powers.

Time after November 16th

The Andau Bridge , which was rebuilt in 1996
Border strip next to the Einser Canal
The memorial on the Hungarian side is in a desolate condition

Despite the invasion of the Soviet Army , individual groups still offered resistance. But over time a mass exodus began via Austria, which had not been occupied since 1955, to the west. Most of the refugees were collected in the Vienna area and provided with the bare essentials. A number of refugee camps were set up in Eastern Austria; partly where a year earlier the Soviet occupation troops had only withdrawn after the State Treaty , such as in Traiskirchen or the Liechtenstein Castle in Maria Enzersdorf .

Since Austria could not take in all refugees, many were distributed to other western countries. Most Hungarians were allowed to choose a country and sometimes a certain region in that country. Many of them went overseas, around 70,000 stayed in Austria permanently. A total of over 200,000 Hungarians fled to the west, more than 70,000 of them over the Andau bridge , which crosses the Einser Canal .

In order to cut off the escape route, the old wooden bridge was blown up on the afternoon of November 21, 1956. 40 years later, the Andau Bridge was rebuilt in memory of Austrian and Hungarian pioneers and was ceremoniously opened on September 14, 1996.

In 1957, refugee Hungarians founded the Philharmonia Hungarica orchestra in Baden , which has had its seat in Marl (Westphalia) since 1960 and achieved the artistic and actual status of the state orchestra of the Federal Republic of Germany. Today the orchestra finds its continuation in the New Philharmonia Hungarica .

Suppression and "purges"

Imre Nagy was arrested on November 22, despite being assured of impunity, and executed in June 1958 following a top-secret trial with other leaders of the popular uprising, such as Defense Minister Pál Maléter . 350 other people were executed, including Péter Mansfeld, a student at his 18th birthday . There were waves of purges following the uprising . The new prime minister was János Kádár , who pursued a course strictly loyal to Moscow in foreign policy, but carried out domestic reforms after a phase of restoration (see goulash communism ). Kádár was party leader from 1956 to 1988 (first or general secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party ). He was Prime Minister from 1956 to 1958 and from 1961 to 1965 (see list of Prime Ministers of Hungary ).

Objectives and demands of the insurgents

The uprising was both national and anti-totalitarian.

National independence

The students of the Budapest Technical University demanded, as a necessary prerequisite for reforms, the withdrawal of Soviet troops and, furthermore, the reintroduction of the Hungarian national holidays and state symbols. They also called for the Stalin statue to be removed. Significantly, their demonstration began on October 23 at the monument of the Polish General Josef Bem , who in 1849 fought as commander for the revolution and national independence.

In the catalogs of demands there was also the demand to reintroduce the Kossuth coat of arms , which was the emblem of the revolution of 1848 and the state coat of arms in 1946, as well as the 15th March (commemoration day of the revolution of 1848) as a national holiday , as well as the one based on the Soviet model Abolish designed uniforms. After the outbreak of the uprising, demands were made to declare October 23 a national holiday.

The demand for a review of international agreements and foreign trade treaties was directed against the status of dependency on the Soviet Union. In general, the end of military, political and economic dependency was called for.

After the Soviet intervention on October 24th, the uprising against the Stalinist dictatorship had turned into a national struggle for freedom . The most important demand now was the immediate withdrawal of the Soviet troops deployed against the revolution. A success of the democratic transformation seemed only possible without the presence of Soviet troops, since they defended the old system with military force.

On October 29th, however, the disempowerment of Ernő Gerő , the previous Prime Minister András Hegedüs and the dissolution of the State Security Service were no longer sufficient to stabilize the situation. The armed insurgents, the political groups, workers' councils and revolutionary committees demanded, in addition to the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops, Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the declaration of Hungary's neutrality .

Democracy and Political Freedoms

In their statement, the students of the Technical University of Budapest called for a multi-party system , free elections and civil liberties. They demanded the punishment of those guilty of the Rákosi regime, including Mátyás Rákosi and the former Central Committee secretary Mihály Farkas , the abolition of delivery quotas in agriculture, the right to strike, freedom of expression , freedom of the press and freedom of assembly .

During the demonstrations on the afternoon and evening of October 23, the crowds demanded u. a. the reading of the student demands on the radio and the takeover of government by Imre Nagy.

The demands formulated by the students quickly became common knowledge among the insurgents. Furthermore, the workers' councils , which represented about a million and a half people, claimed a share in power. Without exception, the workers' councils demanded the right to strike . The workers' council in the industrial area of ​​Csepel already called for freedom of religion on October 24th .

After units of the State Security Service killed more than 100 people by shooting into the crowd during a demonstration in front of the parliament building, the immediate dissolution of the security service was demanded everywhere.


In 1991 the Hungarian Parliament donated the Memorial Medal to the Hungarian People's Uprising . In 1991 the Hungarian Parliament lifted the statute of limitations for crimes related to the popular uprising so that people who were still alive could be brought to justice.

See also


Primary sources

Web links

Commons : Hungarian National Uprising  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sarah Günther: The Spirit of 1989 - In conversation with Katalin Jánosi, the granddaughter of the revolutionary martyr Imre Nagy. Budapester Zeitung, June 16, 2019, accessed on July 17, 2019 .
  2. : Establishment of UNEF
  3. a b c John Glasneck, Angelika Timm: Israel: The history of the state since its inception . Bonn / Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-416-02349-8 , p. 132 f.
  4. Jost Dülffer : Europe in the East-West Conflict. 1945-1991 . Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-49105-9 , p. 20.
  5. ^ Jost Dülffer: Europe in the East-West Conflict 1945–1990 . Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-49105-9 , p. 179.
  6. ^ Gerhard Altmann: Farewell to the Empire: the internal decolonization of Great Britain 1945–1985 . Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-870-1 , p. 170.
  7. Der Spiegel 4/1957 of January 23, 1957: I AM A LUMP, MR PROSECUTOR! - The hanged make a revolution / On the fate of Laszlo Rajk, Traitscho Kastoff, Rudolf Slansky and other honored dead
  8. Sarah Günther: The Spirit of 1989 - In conversation with Katalin Jánosi, the granddaughter of the revolutionary martyr Imre Nagy. Budapester Zeitung, June 16, 2019, accessed on July 17, 2019 .
  9. So on page 343 of the autobiography Born 1900 by the playwright Julius Hay , German paperback edition Munich 1980. Hay was a leader in the uprising, which he describes in detail (from page 321 to page 400). With his article Why do I not like Comrade Kucsera? (published on October 6th in Irodalmi Ujság ) Hay wrote a pioneering document for the revolutionary movement. On October 23, he went to the party house with a delegation from the Writers' Union. Gerő refused to give the party's blessing to the demonstrations, but he had promised not to be shot. He confirmed this with a handshake, which Hay found "masculine" and "calming". Hay was wrong.
  11. Hungary 1956: From Poor Refugees to "Parasites of Prosperity" in the standard of September 10, 2015, accessed on October 26, 2016.