The last two western reporters before the revolution

With the rise of communism power after 1945, western newspapers and news agencies were left without correspondents in Budapest. The only two exceptions to this were the husband and wife team of Endre and Ilona Marton, who worked for the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) respectively. They continued reporting from Hungary even after western journalists were expelled one after the other on charges of spying. Eventually, they would meet the same fate in 1955, arrested on similar charges, leaving western media without a Budapest-based correspondent for some time.  

Ilona and Endre Marton were released from prison a few months before the revolution, which is how Endre Marton was able to report on the protest at Bem Square on October 23rd, the speech delivered by Imre Nagy at the parliament building, the toppling of the Stalin statue and the siege of the Hungarian Radio building. Ilona Marton had travelled to Vienna a few days prior to the revolution’s outbreak and was only able to return to Budapest on October 29th. For the evening of October 23rd, Endre Marton had invited the American journalist John MacCormac and his wife for dinner, but due to the circumstances Marton and MacCormac instead wrote an article together. Their telephone line was soon cut, and they had to send their dispatches via the AP’s office in Belgrade and a commercial telephone exchange in Prague, but even these lines were cut later that evening. Marton’s articles afterwards were largely dispatched to Vienna via other western journalists or through the help of an employee at the US Embassy.

On the morning of October 25th, Marton went to the American Embassy to learn of Soviet troop movements, and to send his reports via the embassy’s teletype machine. This is how he became an eyewitness to the massacre at Kossuth Square, where over a hundred lost their lives after the ÁVH secret police fired upon a crowd of people fraternizing with Soviet troops, who in the ensuing chaos left hundreds injured in addition to the dead. The report of this bloodbath that Marton co-authored with MacCormac appeared on the front page of the New York Times the following day.

Late in the afternoon of November 3rd, Endre Marton was present for the Nagy Government’s only press conference in the Parliament, were 150 journalists could finally question government officials.

Following the overthrow of the revolution, Endre and Ilona Marton, together with their daughters, were allowed to take refuge at the American Embassy. Due to political concerns, the embassy primarily only admitted American citizens, but they made an exception with the Martons. In addition to them and some West German technicians, the only other person admitted to the building was Cardinal József Mindszenty. The family left the embassy for the first time on November 6th and returned to their home in Buda on November 10th. At the time, India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, K. P. S. Menon, happened to be in Budapest and met with the Martons and others for lengthy discussions. It was during these days that Ilona Marton dispatched to the western news agencies the call for the general strike by the workers’ councils for December 11th and 12th. Ultimately, the Hungarian workers learned about the call to strike from the western radio broadcasts.

Seeing the reprisals, the Martons decided to leave the country. Hungarian authorities provided them with exit visas, even though they knew the Martons were not planning to return. The family left Hungary via a car belonging to the US Embassy, January 16, 1957.

Bence Csatári