SPECIAL FEATURE: by Anna DoszpotNews Weekly
'I can never forget them': a memoir of the 1956 Hungarian uprising
, November 11, 2006
Fifty years after the abortive 1956 Hungarian uprising against communism, an eyewitness Anna Doszpot still cannot forget the pity and horror of that time.When I think back on those events of 50 years ago in Hungary, it is still with great emotion that brings tears to my eyes. As I write these words, I relive the hardships of the postwar years and the 1956 freedom struggle that gave us so much hope for a brief few days and then ended in bloodshed that led to utter personal and national despair.
In June 1948, when I was six months pregnant with our first child, my 25-year-old husband Istvan was interrogated at the infamous 60 Andrassy Street (secret police headquarters), Budapest, for one month and subsequently sentenced to two years' internment at the Budadeli Internment Camp.
His crime? That he was the leader of a Catholic-funded youth group (KIOE) that assisted young apprentices. For this he was accused of being a "spy for Western forces" and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a small two-by-one-metre cell, or until he confessed to his "crimes against the state" and was deemed eligible for re-entry into society.
Istvan never confessed to these fabricated charges and was released after almost two years, in 1950, but with a strict reporting to the authorities for another two years.Confiscated
By 1956 we had three young children: Steven (8), Anna (3) and Gustav (18 months). My widowed mother Barbara was living with us in a communal subdivided house that we shared with three other families in Huvosvolgy near Budapest. My mother's property had been confiscated by the communist regime as all private property was nationalised.
My husband and I worked hard to support our small family. Istvan was a fitter and turner at the Nemzeti (National) Fine Mechanical Company, and I was a bookbinder with the Red Star printery.
We lived our lives quietly, not wanting to attract the notice of the authorities, as Istvan could be questioned at any time after his internment. We maintained some close friendships within our Catholic community, but the ever-present threat of the secret police led us to be constantly wary of strangers and, sadly, even some friends.
On the morning of October 23, 1956, we left for work as usual, with no inkling of what events were unfolding around us. I worked in the army-controlled Red Star printery where we were constantly under a military presence with soldiers on guard. Around midday we noticed that the usual army caps worn by the soldiers were suddenly replaced by battle helmets. All of us at the printery were civilian workers and we sensed that something was very wrong, but no one was brave enough to question what was happening - so we quietly continued our work.Fighting erupted
Indeed that was the start of the fight for freedom. On October 24, we awoke to the sound of gunfire that frightened the children but, to our relief, they were just scared of the "thunder". We turned on our radio which confirmed our hopes that a freedom fight had erupted on the streets of Budapest and was spreading to the countryside.
We prayed to God to protect the many brave youths, our freedom-fighters, who had resorted to these measures out of total dejection over a system that had failed them and imprisoned their spirits.
We listened to the radio constantly, taking turns to monitor the flow of information and care for the children, until they went to bed. Then Istvan and I could finally share our thoughts and fears, and for a few precious days we dared to dream of a future worth living.
The news on the radio then informed us that the revolution of "reactionary forces" had been defeated and that everyone should immediately return to their place of work.
Even though there was scattered gunfire around the city, the radio reports informed us it was imperative that life return to normal. As we were to find out later, this was pure misinformation and the state-controlled national radio was soon the scene of a bloody battle as the freedom-fighters realised their need to gain control of the state media.Tearful goodbyes
We awoke on the 25th to what we thought was another false dawn, as hope of freedom seemed beyond our reach again. We said tearful goodbyes to our children and my mother as we set off to work.
I will never forget the sight of my mother waving to us for as long as she could see us, all of us not knowing what awaited us in Budapest nor how safe our family would be during our absence. Would we ever see each other again?
As we reached our tram station in Huvosvolgy, there was a crowded tram that seemed to be waiting just for us. The passengers were all lost in their private thoughts. It was an eerie shared feeling of mass depression that I had never experienced before or since. The silence was deafening as we made our tram journey into Budapest and uncertainty.
We left the tram at Szel Kalman Square and continued our journey on foot towards our places of employment. Istvan was insistent that I should wait for him at the printery after work so we could go home together.
On reaching the street where the Red Star printery was located, we were in a farewell embrace, when the soldier on guard outside the printery menacingly told us to step apart, as no group meetings were allowed.
He also informed me that nobody was allowed into the printing work
areas, and that everyone was to wait in the "Culture Hall". All these statements meant nothing to me, but, despite the smile, were delivered with an underlying menacing tone.
When I stepped into the Culture Hall, my blood froze at the sad sight before us. They were holding some of the young freedom-fighters who had been captured overnight.
They were prisoners of the state, who would now be transported to the Marko Street prison where they could expect no mercy.
I could not forget the frightened faces or the ultimate fate of these tragic brave boys who had been captured. Their selfless sacrifice, which would undoubtedly cost them their lives, would all be for nothing, and the dreams and hopes of millions for a free democratic Hungary had been dashed yet again.Frightened
Finally, my husband Istvan arrived and, noticing my frightened and agitated state, he wisely chose not to ask me anything at the printery, but led me outside by the arm and whispered that we could not head home by our usual route via Margaret Bridge as there was considerable shooting in that direction. We would have to go to Kossuth Bridge, near the Parliament building, and Kossuth Square, Budapest. It was a bit of a detour but much safer.
In silence, we hurriedly made our way towards Kossuth Bridge, but all the while the noise of the shooting seemed to be all around us and I cringed at every lethal sound. It was indescribably frightening and we were both much relieved when we finally got within sight of Parliament House, and what we thought was safety.Standing in silence
As we reached Kossuth Square, we came upon a huge crowd that was constantly growing as people entered from the side streets. It was a strange sight, these thousands of people just standing in the square in silence. Istvan wanted to stay and see what they were waiting for. There were some calls from the crowd that the Communist Red Star should be taken off our Parliament House. I was too frightened to stay and urged my husband that we should go home.
As we were making our way across the edges of Kossuth Square, we noticed that one of the Russian tanks that had been observing the crowd suddenly start to move towards it and, to our horror, just drove over the people standing there.
It was incomprehensible - these people just standing there one minute were suddenly under the wheels of the tank. People nearby started yelling, "Murderers! Murderers!" and, without thoughts for their own safety, ran forwards and with their bare hands started hitting the tank, crying and screaming at the tank-driver's inhumanity.
Suddenly, as if on cue, there was gunfire from all the tanks that surrounded Kossuth Square, as well as from the buildings. There seemed no place to hide. There was total panic. Some people tried to get out of the line of fire by lying down on the grass; others, including ourselves, just started running, looking for some cover. Istvan was trying to tell me that we should also lie down, but I was too frightened and just kept running.
A man in front of us fell down shot and, as he was trying to get up, he was shot again. We were on the left hand side of the Parliament building and the shooting seemed to be coming from everywhere. Whichever direction we ran, there were people falling around us.
By some miracle, we reached a corner of Kossuth Square where a building site office or shed was located. We barged our way in and were not surprised to see lot of people already huddled together, many of whom were badly wounded. There was moaning and crying everywhere in the cramped haven.
Eventually, we decided we could stay no longer. We had to reach our family before the curfew and, with hands in the air, Istvan and I staggered out the door, out of our safe haven, into who knows what. A startled soldier came towards us and demanded to know how we had got here. He frisked us for weapons, and wanted to know where we were headed. Our answer was a tearful "home to Huvosvolgy to our family".
Istvan and I talked about the realities that we could face. If he had been imprisoned on trumped-up charges before, was that likely to happen again? Even worse, we heard that many suspected enemies of the state, especially those with religious connections, could face execution.
Thousands of Hungarians, including many of our friends, were escaping as refugees into Austria. We also planned to make our escape and, after two aborted attempts towards the Austrian border, we also finally escaped on January 17, 1957. As the borders were being sealed, we were amongst the last to reach Yugoslavia.
We spent seven long months in various refugee camps around Yugoslavia before we received news of our acceptance by the Australian authorities. All we possessed were the clothes on our backs, but suddenly we were the richest and most fortunate of people as we had our family safe, and at last a future to look forward to, for us and our children.Arrival
We arrived at Circular Quay, Sydney, aboard the SS Australia
on September 17, 1957, after ironically being on the first ship that was allowed passage through the newly reopened Suez Canal. Our family grew by two additional children in Australia: William, a few months after our arrival in 1957, and our youngest daughter Mary in 1960.
Istvan and I struggled to establish our new life in our new homeland, but we were always happy with our good fortune and the opportunity that Australia had afforded us and our children.
But hardly a day passes that I do not thank God for the blessings that He has bestowed on us, and in particular my everlasting gratitude for the brave young people, those dreamers, the gentle and brave who sacrificed their lives 50 years ago.
I still have nightmares for the hundreds and hundreds of innocent souls who lost their lives on that tragic day at Parliament, Kossuth Square, Budapest, on October 25, 1956. I can never forget them.