My mother’s 1956 Revolution

If you ask me to tell you about the 1956 Revolution, my mother begins, there are two really important things that I need to mention. One is that I’ve never seen so many happy people on the streets as I did during those days. As people walked by us they hugged us, saying that we now had freedom and a new life. The other thing involves how my father always went to the market hall at Rákóczi Square. Imagine this: the stands did not have vendors, just products with honesty boxes for people to pay into, and everyone paid into them. No one stole any of the money.

Freedom and honesty. Those are the two most important things for me.

The Rákosi Era was awful. We lived in a village and were frequently hungry. Your grandfather had lost his pension because he was considered a class enemy. We also slaughtered the pigs illegally and as a child I knew that we could not mention it. The kulaks — that’s what the communist authorities called farmers who were considered wealthy — in the village were also persecuted. Then my father decided that I should come to Pest and study here, so I could one day go to college.

I was 12-years-old in 1956, and my older brother Jóska was 14. We lived in Mária Street which was in the thick of the events.

Afternoon classes were just beginning on October 23rd, 1956, when our head teacher, who was very strict and taught math entered the classroom and told us: dear children, go home at once, and by all means do not head in the direction of Blaha Lujza Square. So of course my friend and I immediately took off for Blaha Lujza Square and saw that they were throwing books out of the windows of the headquarters of the communist newspaper, Szabad Nép, and setting them on fire. Afterward we went home, since my father was strict and I was worried what he would say if I stayed out late. At home, my father was waiting, but my brother was nowhere to be found. We were worried about where he might be, but he arrived home late that night, holding a piece of the Stalin statue in his hand. He excitedly told us of how he had been there when they dragged it down. The first shots were fired during the night, and I was really scared and hid next to the ceramic furnace in our apartment. My father said that we were brave and would not hide in the basement. Our neighbor tried to convince us otherwise, but we stayed.

The next day my father walked to his workplace on the other side of the city, while my brother and I went outside to take a look around.

We did not have food at home, only pasta, so we left to go get some bread. We were out on the street when all of a sudden a man next to us in a trench coat began firing with a machinegun.

The dead lay on the ground on the Grand Boulevard. Aunt Mici told us not to look, but of course my brother and I did. And then on a nice day my godfather, who lived in one of the towns just outside Budapest, arrived with a massive backpack (the same from his time as a Russian POW) filled with food. We woke up on the morning of November 4th to loud noises and bangs, as the Soviet tanks rolled past our house. The revolution was over.

There was one bright spot to be found in this sadness, however: Jancsi Mohácsi arrived from the village were we had lived, wearing a machinegun. He had fought during the revolution, and said we should climb aboard the truck with him and ride back to the village. We were quite happy to do so, since it allowed us to spend the rest of the year with our grandparents. Grandma, who could always console us, helped us a lot. She told us to cry if we were sad and not to hold it in.

I later earned a university degree and became a college teacher. Back in 1982 October 23rd was not yet a holiday, and so I taught on that day as well. At the time I had a mischievous student, who asked me if I knew what day it was. And then I told them, that of course I knew, and I told them what I told you now, of my memories from 1956. They listened with astonishment.

And then, my daughter, when you became a historian and produced your first documentary about 1956, and when you showed us at home what we had done, together with the people in the film, then I felt that it was not in vain that I had been telling you since your childhood about the true history of 1956. And I also thought that it’s very good that we take your son, my grandson, each year to Mária Street, where I lived in 1956 and where I can tell him about it as well.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth