Gergely Pongrátz, the leader of the Corvin Lane group who preserved the revolution’s memory

If you were to travel south from Budapest to the town of Kiskunmajsa, you would find a museum dedicated to the 1956 Revolution. This museum was founded by the legendary leader of the Corvin Lane group Gergely Pongrátz in order to preserve the memory of the revolution. Pongrátz, who returned to Hungary after decades spent abroad, poured his own money and energy into building this memorial place for future generations.

In his book Corvin Köz 1956, Pongrátz wrote that his family was not only of Transylvanian background, but also Armenian. His ancestors had lived in Szamosújvár (today Gherla, Romania) since the 14th century. In so many words, he said that although he had Armenian blood flowing through his veins, in his heart he was a Hungarian patriot.

Pongrátz was born into an educated, well-to-do family. His father had been a mayor, and he had seven siblings. In addition to Gergely, five of his brothers (András, Bálint, Ernő, Kristóf and Ödön) also participated in the revolution at Corvin Lane.

The young Pongrátz spent the 1950s in the countryside, working as an agriculturalist. Upon learning of the revolution on October 24th, 1956, he left for Budapest and on October 25th joined the group at Corvin Lane. Pongrátz is significant because when Major-General Gyula Váradi, who represented the government, pushed for an unconditional ceasefire on the part of the Corvin Lane group during negotiations, Pongrátz and his friend János Mesz stood by the purity of the revolution and courageously gave their voices to continuing the armed struggle against the Soviet occupiers. On November 1st, Pongrátz was chosen to be the leader of the Corvin Lane group. Following the overthrow of the revolution, he emigrated, living in the United States and Spain where he actively preserved the memory of the revolution through the World Alliance of Hungarian Freedom Fighters. Pongrátz returned to Hungary after the regime change and played an important role in ensuring that his comrades-in-arms who had died during or been executed after the revolution were given proper burials.

Every community has a person who has a way with words, who can find the most articulate ways to express lofty ideals. These are the messengers and those who preserve memories. Gergely Pongrátz was one of these. He wrote and spoke eloquently. His last words were “I did not let them sell out the revolution.” What he meant by this was that he dedicated his life to ensuring that the revolution would be properly remembered.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth