Unguarded and untouched: money collection boxes during the revolution

Unattended boxes were placed at various points of Budapest during the days of the revolution, which soon filled with money. Written onto these boxes were the simple words “the purity of our revolution allows us to collect in this way for the families of our martyrs.”

The collection boxes symbolized that the revolution was untainted and that the people did not go looting during the upheaval. It did not matter that the boxes were left unattended and out in the open; no one stole any of the money left in them.

During these days, a common method for paying at the market halls was to simply take the kilo of potatoes or apples that a person needed, and to then leave the money in a tray that also went untouched. The sense of solidarity during those days ran deep. Strangers would hug each other in the streets or smile at each other as they said, “we have freedom now”.

The money collection idea originated with the Hungarian Writers’ Union, who were the ones that deposited the boxes and wrote the posters over them. The Writers’ Union had already actively participated the day that the revolution began, for it was the writer Péter Veres who read the demands at the statue of General Józef Bem, among them that Imre Nagy should once again become prime minister. Following the overthrow of the revolution and during a meeting on December 28, 1956 the Hungarian writers expressed their continued support of its ideals. It was at this time that Áron Tamás read the “Gond és hitvallás” (Concern and Faith) declaration, which expressed solidarity with the revolution’s achievements. Following this, the union was disbanded. In 1992, the writer Gyula Fekete recalled those days in 1956:

“I asked the army for square-shaped boxes, roughly 60×60 centimeters in size, and they gave us five munitions boxes. We painted five posters, roughly 60×90 centimeters in size, with the following words: “Donate to the families of the fallen”, and beneath that “Hungarian Writer’s Union”. We taped a real 100 forint note right into the middle of each poster. It was late morning on November 2nd when we took the boxes and posters out, leaving one each at the Nyugati and Keleti Train Stations, at the National Theater, at Astoria and a fifth in Buda. I can’t recall if the last one was located at Gellért Square or Moszkva Square (today Széll Kálmán Square). By 3 o’clock in the afternoon we received calls that the boxes were full.

“A small conflict even ensued at Astoria, because two armed revolutionaries wanted to guard the pile of money that had been left, while pedestrians were upset that they were shaming the revolution by guarding the boxes. There was no need to guard them, since no one except those permitted to would have touched the money anyway. I remember the phone calls, and I remember sending my message, asking the armed guards to stop watching the box. After 3 o’clock we collected the boxes, and the following day around noon we took them back out for only 2-3 hours. If I remember correctly, we managed to collect 192,000 forints in the end. We distributed quick assistance to the families of the dead who contacted us, 500 forints each, even to the families of the secret police who had been killed.”

“A box of money, on the corner of Rákóczi Road, in front of the pharmacy,” according to a news account from the time, “and there’s a large crowd by it. The people stop, read the poster in shock, then reach for their wallets. On the sidewalk a large wooden box sits, filled with ten, twenty, fifty and hundred forint notes. A box to support the orphans of the revolution. The collection was launched by the Hungarian Writers’ Union.”

(Egyetemi Ifjuság, November 4, 1956, p. 4)

For those of us in the present, these boxes remain a symbol of the revolution’s purity and what might have been.

Eszter Zsófia Tóth