Racing bullets to deliver the news

News of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution caught the world off guard, which at the time had been preoccupied with the changes going on in Poland. After the revolution began on October 23rd, it was almost as if by magic that approximately 150 foreign journalists found themselves in Hungary, with the majority arriving October 27 or 28 or even later. The majority of journalists represented capitalist countries, while those from the Eastern Bloc nations were primarily from Poland or Yugoslavia.

As it so happened, there were already a few foreign journalists in Budapest on October 23rd, such as John MacCormac, the head of the New York Times’s Vienna office, Leslie B. Bain, who worked for the North American Newspaper Alliance and wrote articles for the New York-based Reporter, and Sefton Delmer, a journalist with the Daily Express. The first reporter to reach Hungary after the outbreak of the revolution was the Italian Ilario Fiore of Il Tempo. His taxi was overturned by the protestors in their anger since he was blocking their route, but once they discovered he was Italian, apologies were given and his taxi was soon set back on its wheels. On October 23rd, most of these reporters were present at either the siege of the radio building or at the toppling of the Stalin Statue and pooled their information, so that by the following day the American press was reporting on the revolution and the beginning of armed hostilities.

These reporters wrote about the massacre at Kossuth Square on October 25th — MacCormac was even on the scene when it happened — as as did Seymour Freidin of the American tabloid the New York Post and Gordon Shepherd, a journalist with the Daily Telegraph who visited the site of the massacre hours after it occurred. During these days dozens of reporters sat on the western side of the Austro-Hungarian border waiting for permission to enter Hungary, but in the absence of visas some had to wait for days before entering the country. Those who arrived before October 26th could witness one of the revolution’s most tragic events at Mosonmagyaróvár, where 100 people died in a massacre that also left 230 injured.

The journalists also wrote positive reports, however. On October 30th, a few hours after Soviet troops had withdrawn from Budapest (which turned out to be only temporary), Sefton Delmer interviewed Colonel Pál Maléter (who would become minister of defense in the final Nagy Government) at the Kilián Barracks. Getting these reports out to the world involved no shortage of technical difficulties. Some of the journalists would drive between Budapest and the border, while others tried to report through the cable connections of their respective embassies and still others used smugglers to get their news out to the world. Some reporters on their way to the border were even shot at. One such reporter had the good fortune of having a crack-shot Hungarian soldier along for the ride, who swiftly took out the Soviet attacker so that only two bullets struck their car.

In addition to the soldiers and revolutionaries, the journalists themselves put their lives in danger on a daily basis during the course of their work, with the French Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini even suffering mortal wounds when struck down in Budapest. The Soviet invasion of November 4th was a huge disappointment for all of the western journalists present, and surmising what would be the most realistic outcome, most left between November 8th and 11th. These journalists, who for the first time had unfettered access to the public in a communist country, were able to reveal to the world what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.

Bence Csatári