Each day could have been his last

Anyone wishing to have a more minute grasp of János Kádar’s post-revolution reprisals should know Jenő Fónay’s story. Fónay, who had studied at the University of Economics and the Technical University, was a 30-year-old revolutionary in 1956 who had even been an American prisoner of war during World War II. On October 23, 1956 he joined the protest at the Petőfi statue and at Bem Square and marched together with 200 thousand other Hungarians to the Parliament. Since the first shots were fired that evening at the radio building, he joined the revolutionaries, and on October 25th, he organized the revolutionary bridge guard operating at the Margaret Bridge’s Buda side, which kept the peace and also looked out for those opposed to the revolution. To do this, however, the group was in need of weapons, so Fónay led a group of people to the Óbuda Police Station where they then obtained a number of pistols and other guns.

Following this, Fónay also fought together with the revolutionary group at one of Buda’s emblematic locations, Széna Square. There they barricaded the square and used the trams and other vehicles as cover from which to shoot at the Soviet tanks. Fónay was an important figure alongside Uncle Szabó in the bloody fight that saw high casualties on both sides. He fought so bravely in the fights that on October 27th he was elected to be Uncle Szabó’s deputy in the Széna Square group. It was in this capacity that he negotiated alongside the other group leaders with the Nagy Government on the conditions of a ceasefire.

After the revolution was overthrown, the Kádár Government’s henchmen searched for him for a long time until they found and arrested him October 1, 1957. Following lengthy interrogations and torture, it appeared as if he would be martyred, since he was sentenced to death during the trial, which was upheld on appeal. Fónay was among those revolutionaries who were kept in uncertainty for the longest time, not knowing if each day would be the last, as his comrades in prison were executed one after the other. He spent more than four months in prison waiting for his execution. Despite this psychological torture, however, the Kádár regime had different plans for him, and on August 8th, 1958, he was given clemency. Not only was he not sent to the gallows, but he was later released in 1963 during the general amnesty.

Out of the 15 members of the Széna Square group condemned to death, Fónay was the only one to escape the hangman’s noose. In a documentary film, he showed the cell where he had been held and from where the people in the neighboring cells were taken to their executions. The documentary even included a segment where he spoke beneath the gallows. Not surprisingly, he was unable to keep his emotions in check while he spoke.

Following his release, Fónay did not bid his time, and through his work as an engineer he came to own three patents. In 1988, when the Communists were still in power in Hungary but the winds of change were already in the air, he bravely delivered a memorial speech at the grave of Imre Nagy and the other martyrs in Lot 301 of the New Public Cemetery. A year later he took an active role in Nagy’s reburial June 16, 1989, which is considered the moment that the communist regime realized it was game over. Today, Jenő Fónay is 90 years old and remains in good health.

Bence Csatári