Uncle Szabó commanded the biggest group of revolutionaries who fought at Széna Square

An older man with a large mustache kisses his gun. It’s an emblematic picture from the 1956 Revolution, and that man is Uncle Szabó, the legendary leader of the Széna Square group, who would become one of the first victims of the post-revolution reprisals.

János Szabó was born in Transylvania and had a difficult and challenging youth. His father died and he was abandoned by his mother at the age of three to be raised by strangers. Szabó fought throughout World War I and spent two years as a member of the French Foreign Legion. After returning home he married and had two children, who were raised by his wife’s parents after her death. In 1945, he remarried and together with his wife they adopted a daughter. Szabó worked as a truck driver and was reported to the authorities at his place of work for wearing a necklace with a cross, after which he received a beating at the police station. He was arrested in 1953 on falsified charges of spying and spent nine months in prison where he was also tortured.

Szabó joined the group at Széna Square on October 26th since he agreed with the protesters’ demands and wanted to fight for Hungarian freedom. The following day he was elected to be their leader. The younger members of the group supported him since he was friendly and principled. They called him “bátyám” (my older brother), which is a respectful, endearing way of addressing an older, male relative. Uncle Szabó was selfless and possessed a clean spirit, and on one occasion when he received 7,000 forints from someone (which at the time was more than two months’ salary) he placed it on the table so that the revolutionaries could buy supplies with it. Vadmacska (or, Wildcat), who would fight under Uncle Szabó’s command, recalled approaching him to ask for protection. Uncle Szabó kindly replied, “My young girl, there’s no one to cook soup for the fighters, come and help us.” Vadmacska received her nickname after she exposed an ambulance filled with ÁVH secret police, to which Uncle Szabó exclaimed “See what sharp wildcat eyes you have? You saw from a distance what we couldn’t see even from up close!”

On November 4th, Szabó sang the national anthem with his comrades-in-arms and continued the fight for as long as possible. After the Soviets pushed them back to Solymár, a town just northwest of Budapest, and several of the group were injured or killed, they disbanded. From the research work performed by László Eörsi, we know that he hid in the basement of his wife’s workplace, but the doorman betrayed him and he was arrested on November 19th, swiftly brought to trial and executed on January 19th, 1957. His hope that the ÁVH secret police who he had saved from being lynched would come to his aid was in vain. What is also worth mentioning is that it was due to his group that György Marosán, one of the Stalinist politicians of the era, escaped harm.

Uncle Szabó stood out from the others because of his excellent organizational abilities and for leading Budapest’s largest revolutionary group. He was an honest man who held out to the bitter end.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth